West Bank

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Map of the West Bank.
Map of the West Bank.

The West Bank is a landlocked territory not recognized as a de jure part of any sovereign country. The West Bank is considered by the United Nations and most countries as currently occupied by Israel, though some Israelis and various other groups prefer to refer to it as "disputed" or even "liberated" rather than "occupied" territory. Its borders were defined by the 1948 Arab-Israeli War armistice lines after the dissolution of the British mandate of Palestine, when it was captured and annexed by Jordan. From 1948 until 1967 the area was under Jordanian rule, though Jordan did not give up its claim to the area until 1988. The area was then captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, although with the exception of East Jerusalem, it was not annexed. Prior to 1948 the area was part of the British Mandate created after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Located west and south-west of the Jordan River in the eastern part of the Palestine region in the Middle East, it is bordered by Israel to the west, north, and south, and by Jordan to the east. 40% of the area (including most of the population) is under the limited civilian jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, while Israel maintains overall control (including over Israeli settlements, rural areas, and border regions). The population of the West Bank is predominantly Palestinian (84%) with a significant minority of Israeli settlers.

In Hebrew it is referred to by the Biblical names of Yehuda and Shomron, and some English speakers use the equivalent Judea and Samaria. The name Cisjordan is also used for the region in some languages (e.g. French, Spanish). The status of East Jerusalem is controversial. Israel, having annexed it, no longer considers it part of the West Bank; however, the annexation is not recognized by any other country, nor by the United Nations. In either case, it is often treated as separate from the West Bank due to its importance; for example, the Oslo Peace Accords treat the status of East Jerusalem as a separate matter from the status of the other Palestinian territories, to be resolved at a later undetermined date.


Demographics of the West Bank

Main article: Demographics of the West Bank

The West Bank is inhabited by approximately 2.4 million Palestinians, over 400,000 Israeli settlers (including those in East Jerusalem), and small ethnic groups such as the Samaritans numbering in the hundreds. The Jewish settlers in the West Bank live only in Israeli settlements, and generally do not interact with the local Palestinian population as they form part of Israeli rather than Palestinian society and are Israeli citizens. Approximately 30% of Palestinians living in the West Bank are refugees or their direct descendants, who fled or were expelled from Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (see Palestinian exodus).[1],[2]

Cities in the West Bank

The most densely populated part of the region is a mountainous spine, running north-south, where the cities of East Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron are located. Jenin, in the extreme north of the West Bank is on the southern edge of the Jezreel Valley, Qalqilyah and Tulkarm are in the low foothills adjacent to the Israeli coastal plain, and Jericho is situated near the Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea. Maale Adumim (about 6 km east of Jerusalem) and Ariel (between Nablus and Ramallah) are the largest Israeli settlements in the territory. See also: List of cities in Palestinian Authority areas

Origin of the name

The region did not have a separate existence until 1948–9, when it was defined by the Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan. The name "West Bank" was apparently first used by Jordanians at the time of their annexation of the region, and has become the most common name used in English. Mainly because of the argument that the word "bank" shouldn't be applied to a mountainous region, the name "Cisjordan" or "Cis-jordan" (literally "on this side of the Jordan") is the usual name in French, Spanish, and some other languages, the analogous "Transjordan" having historically been used to designate modern-day Jordan. In English, the name "Cisjordan" is also used to designate the entire region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, but such usage was extremely rare before the past few decades. The names Judea and Samaria, used by some Israelis, are biblical.

Political terminology

Israelis refer to the region either as a unit: "The West Bank" (Hebrew: "ha-Gada ha-Ma'aravit" "הגדה המערבית"), or as two units: Judea (Hebrew: "Yehuda" "יהודה") and Samaria (Hebrew: "Shomron" "שומרון"), after the two biblical kingdoms (the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel — the capital of which was, for a time, in the town of Samaria). The border between Judea and Samaria is a belt of territory immediately north of Jerusalem sometimes called the "land of Benjamin".


The future status of the West Bank, together with the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean shore, has been the subject of negotiation between the Palestinians and Israelis, although the current Road Map for Peace, proposed by the "Quartet" comprising the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, envisions an independent Palestinian state in these territories living side by side with Israel (see also proposals for a Palestinian state).

The Palestinian people believe that the West Bank ought to be a part of their sovereign nation, and that the presence of Israeli military control is a violation of their right to self-determination. The United Nations calls the West Bank and Gaza Strip Israeli-occupied (see Occupied territories). The United States generally agrees with this definition. Many Israelis and their supporters prefer the term disputed territories, claiming it comes closer to a neutral point of view; this viewpoint is not accepted by most other countries, which consider "occupied" to be the neutral description of status.

Israel argues that its presence is justified because:

  1. Israel's eastern border has never been defined by anyone;
  2. the disputed territories have not been part of any state (Jordanian annexation was never recognized) since the time of the Ottoman Empire;
  3. according to the Camp David Accords (1978) with Egypt, the 1994 agreement with Jordan and the Oslo Accords with the PLO, the final status of the territories would be fixed only when there was a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinians public opinion is almost unanimous in opposing Israeli military and settler presence on the West Bank as a violation of their right to statehood and sovereignty. Israeli opinion is split into a number of views:

  • complete or partial withdrawal from the West Bank in hopes of peaceful coexistence in separate states (sometimes called the "land for peace" position); (According to a 2003 poll 73% of Israelis support a peace agreement based on that principle [3]).
  • maintenance of a military presence in the West Bank to reduce Palestinian terrorism by deterrence or by armed intervention, while relinquishing some degree of political control;
  • annexation of the West Bank while considering the Palestinian population as (for instance) citizens of Jordan with Israeli residence permit as per the Elon Peace Plan;
  • annexation of the West Bank and assimilation of the Palestinian population to fully fledged Israeli citizens;
  • annexation of the West Bank and transfer of part or all of the Palestinian population (a 2002 poll at the height of the Al Aqsa intifada found 46% of Israelis favoring Palestinian transfer[4]; in 2005 two polls using a different methodology put the number at approximately 30%).[5]


Main article: History of the West Bank and Gaza Strip

After World War I, and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, a Jewish-Arab agreement (the Faisal_Weizmann Agreement) was signed by Haim Weizmann (later the first president of the state of Israel) and Emir Faisal (later the first King of Iraq) in which the Emir pledged to support the 1917 Balfour Declaration regarding the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Both men disregarded the wishes of the Palestinian Arabs in Palestine. In exchange, the Arabian Peninsula was to form an Arab kingdom. This agreement was ratified during the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. However, the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 between the United Kingdom and France ultimately took precedence, and the arrangement was short-lived. A part of the pre-1948 Mandatory Palestine, the territories now known as the West Bank were almost entirely reserved by the 1947 UN Partition Plan for an Arab state. According to the plan, the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding towns (including Bethlehem) would be an internationally administered territory, whose future would be determined at a later date. While a Palestinian Arab state failed to materialize, the territory was captured by the neighboring kingdom of Jordan. It was annexed by Jordan in 1950 but this annexation was recognized only by the United Kingdom. (Pakistan is usually, but apparently falsely[6] claimed to have recognized it also.)

The 1949 Armistice Agreements established the "Green Line" separating the territories held by Israel and Jordan. During the 1950s, there was significant influx of Palestinian refugees, and violence together with Israeli reprisal raids across the Green Line. In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured this territory, and in November, 1967 Resolution 242 was unanimously adopted. All parties eventually accepted it and agree in its applicability to the West Bank. In 1988, Jordan withdrew all claims to it.

The 1993 Oslo Accords declared the final status of the West Bank to be subject to a forthcoming settlement between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. Following these interim accords, Israel withdrew its military rule from some parts of West Bank, which was then split into:

  • Palestinian-controlled, Palestinian-administered land (Area A)
  • Israeli-controlled, but Palestinian-administered land (Area B)
  • Israeli-controlled, Israeli-administered land (Area C)

Areas B and C constitute the majority of the territory, comprising the rural areas and the Jordan valley region, while urban areas – where the majority of the Palestinian population resides – are mostly designated Area A.

(See Israeli settlements for a discussion of the legal standing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.)

Transport and communication

The West Bank has 4,500 km of roads, of which 2,700 km are paved. Israel has developed many highways to service its settlements, and until the start of Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, these roads were accessible to Palestinians. In response to shootings by Palestinians, some of these highways, especially those leading to settlements, have been completely inaccessible to cars with Palestinian license plates, while many others are restricted only to public transportation and to Palestinians who have special permits from Israeli authorities. Since the start of the Intifada, movement restrictions were also placed on main roads traditionally used by Palestinians to travel between cities, and such restrictions have been blamed for poverty and economic depression in the West Bank [7]. Since the beginning of 2005, there has been some amelioration of these restrictions. According to recent human rights reports, "Israel has made efforts to improve transport contiguity for Palestinians travelling in the West Bank. It has done this by constructing underpasses and bridges (28 of which have been constructed and 16 of which are planned) that link Palestinian areas separated from each other by Israeli settlements and bypass roads" [8] and by removal of checkpoints and physical obstacles, or by not reacting to Palestinian removal or natural erosion of other obstacles. "The impact (of these actions) is most felt by the easing of movement between villages and between villages and the urban centres" [9]. However, the obstacles encircling major Palestinian urban hubs, particularly Nablus and Hebron, have remained. In addition, the IDF prohibits Israeli citizens from entering Palestinian-controlled land (Area A) after incidents where Israelis were kidnapped and/or killed. The West Bank has three paved airports which are currently for military use only. The only civilian airport of Atarot Airport, which was open only to Israelis, was closed in 2001 due to the Intifada. There are no railways.

The Israeli Bezeq and Palestinian PalTel telecommunictaion companies are responsible for communication services in the West Bank. The Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts from an AM station in Ramallah on 675 kHz; numerous local privately-owned stations are also in operation. Most Palestinian households have a radio and TV, and satellite dishes for receiving international coverage are widespread. Recently, PalTel announced and has begun implementing an initiative to provide ADSL broadband internet service to all households and businesses.

Higher Education

Prior to 1967, there was no full-fledged university in the West Bank. There were a few lesser institutions of higher education; for example, An-Najah, which started as an elementary school in 1918, became a community college in 1963. As the Jordanian government did not allow the establishment of such universities in the West Bank, it was necessary for Palestinian students to travel abroad to places such as Jordan, Lebanon, or Europe to obtain their undergraduate and graduate-level degrees.

After the region was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War, several educational institutions expanded into full-fledged undergraduate institutions, while others opened up as entirely new universities. In all, no less than 7 Universities were commissioned in the West Bank since 1967:

Most universities in the West Bank have politically active student bodies, and elections of student council officers are normally along party affiliations. Although the establishment of the universities was initially allowed by the Israeli authorities, some were sporadically ordered closed by the Israeli Civil Administration during the 1970s and 1980s to prevent political activities and violence against the IDF. Some universities remained closed by military order for extended periods during years immediately preceding and following the first Palestinian Intifada, but have largely remained open since the signing of the Oslo Accords despite the advent of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000.

The founding of Palestinian universities has greatly increased education levels among the population in the West Bank. According to a Birzeit University study, the percentage of Palestinians choosing local universities as opposed to foreign institutions has been steadily increasing; as of 1997, 41% of Palestinians with bachelor degrees had obtained them from Palestinian institutions [17]. According to UNESCO, Palestinians are one of the most highly educated groups in the Middle East "despite often difficult circumstances" [18]. The literacy rate among Palestinians in the West Bank (and Gaza) (89%) is third highest in the region after Israel (95%) and Jordan (90%) [19][20] [21].

See also

External links

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