by Jad Isaac
and Majed Rizik
The Geopolitical Situation
The Palestinian people, by and large, accepted the discourse of peaceful negotiations based on the Madrid Conference of 1991. The guiding principles of these negotiations were “Land for Peace” and UN Resolutions 242 and 338. After several rounds of talks in Washington, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel agreed on the historic Declaration of Principles (DOP) in September, 1993. This called for a five-year interim period during which Palestinian and Israeli representatives would negotiate a final status agreement, dealing with the issues of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders and water. The Oslo II agreement, signed in Washington in September, 1995, set out a framework for Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, pending final status negotiations, which were scheduled to begin in May, 1996, and finish by May, 1999.
The interim agreement divided Palestinian land into areas A, B and C. In Area A, the Palestinian authority had complete autonomy over administrative and security issues; in area B, the Palestinians had civil responsibilities; in Area C, Israel had full control. Subsequent agreements resulted in further withdrawals of Israeli military forces and expanded the area under Palestinian control.
At present (December, 2002), Area A comprises 1,004 km² of the West Bank. A further 254.2 km² of the Gaza Strip is also under Palestinian control. Area B now comprises 1,204 km² of the West Bank, while the rest remains under full Israeli control in Area C.
The interim agreement stated that the first phase of the Israeli withdrawal would be completed prior to the Palestinian elections. Further withdrawals were to take place within 18 months of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s inauguration. Responsibilities relating to territory were to be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction, except for issues included in the permanent status negotiations (i.e. borders, Jerusalem and settlements).
Some 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza should have come under Palestinian control 18 months after the inauguration of the Council. But this did not happen. By March, 2000, just 18.2 percent of the territory was under effective Palestinian control. Meanwhile, Israel was proceeding with its expropriation of Palestinian land for building settlements and by-pass roads.
Israeli Policy of Land Expropriation
The scope and type of land affected by expropriation is determined by Israel’s geopolitical ambition to create an ethnic Jewish state in as much of historical Palestine as possible. There are two goals: expansion and separation from the Palestinian population. Though the Likud party emphasizes the former and Labor the latter, both wish to extend and reinforce Israeli control over the Palestinian territory. Locations chosen for expropriation are those that may be easily annexed to Israel proper in the future, or that secure economic resources, militarily advantage or negotiating leverage.
According to Israeli data, there are 140 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. However, satellite images show 282 built-up Jewish areas in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and 26 in Gaza, excluding military sites. These areas cover 150.5 km².1 Currently, the total number of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza is more than 400,000, half of whom reside in settlements in expanded East Jerusalem. There are 18 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and over 200 in the West Bank.
In Jerusalem, Israel expanded the borders of East Jerusalem from 6.5 km² to 71 km² to cover areas in Ramallah and Bethlehem. Those borders were drawn to include as much vacant land but as little built-up Palestinian land as possible.
Today, Israel is in complete control of the city, yet much of the real estate still legally belongs to the indigenous Palestinian population, who have been living there continuously for centuries. Israel’s intensive development program after 1967 built housing and associated infrastructure in the unilaterally annexed and expanded territory of occupied East Jerusalem. In Jerusalem’s Old City, the Israeli authorities have also gradually taken over 55 locations.
In the Gaza Strip, settlements lie predominantly:
* Along the south coast, securing Israeli control of the coast and its waters.
* Near the Egyptian border to secure control of the border now and in the case of a final settlement with the Palestinians.
* At two junctions further north in the Strip, dividing it into three separate areas.
In the West Bank, the focus has been on the following areas:
* Jerusalem, to create demographic barriers and preclude Palestinian claims to it.
* Along the West Bank’s western edges to make a return to 1967 borders impossible, to control water resources and to make the settlements appealing to settlers, who commute to work inside Israel.
* The Jordan valley for security reasons, as well as for its agricultural resources.
Settlement growth is geared towards the creation of blocks that separate Palestinian towns and villages into cantons, making the contiguity of any future Palestinian state practically impossible.
Military camps are also scattered throughout the Palestinian Territories. Most are in the Jordan Valley, which all Israeli planning schemes intend to retain as an “eastern security zone” in the event of a settlement with the Palestinians. In the past, military camps were precursors to civilian settlements, but this practice has declined in recent years, as Israel no longer attempts to legitimate settlement building through military necessity.
The term by-pass road was born with the Oslo Accords, to designate roads in the Palestinian Territories that link Jewish settlements to military camps and to Israel proper, while circumventing built-up Palestinian areas. The Israeli military has complete control of these roads and frequently prevents Palestinians from using them. These roads carve the Palestinian areas into isolated ghettos and often deprive farmers of vital agricultural land. The situation is especially serious in the major cities of the West Bank, where by-pass roads form asphalt boundaries limiting the development of Palestinian communities and further disconnecting them from one another. Israel has built more than 228 km of by-pass roads in the West Bank so far, and around another 565 km of roads are planned. Building by-pass roads, with a 75-meter buffer zone on either side, destroys Palestinian land and hurts the economy. A complex system of military checkpoints complements the by-pass roads. During this Intifada, the Israelis have made full use of these, splitting the Gaza Strip into three separate cantons and the West Bank into 64. Between 2000 and 2002, satellite images showed there were 24 new Israeli settlements and 113 new outposts established on Palestinian land as nucleii for new settlements.
Financial Incentives Offered to Israeli Settlers
Settlers receive a seven percent income tax exemption in the West Bank and 10 percent in Gaza, equivalent to NIS153 million annually. Every settler is granted around NIS 80,000 by the Ministry of Housing. In 2003, the Israeli government is providing NIS 8.55 billion from its budget for settlements.
* The Jewish National Fund is providing NIS 172.4 million for land seizure.
* The Ministry of Transport will use NIS 253.5 million from Israeli taxes to pave roads.
* The Ministry of Defense will open new by-pass roads at a cost of NIS 228 million.
* The Ministry of Commerce and Industry will provide between NIS 22.3 million and NIS 51.9 million to the settlements.
* The Ministry of Housing is providing NIS 350 million. It is also paying NIS 20.6 million to protect settlers living in the old neighborhoods of Jerusalem. In addition, the ministry is giving NIS 76,800 as loans for each person who wants to buy a new apartment, NIS 16,800 of which are grants.
* NIS 137.8 million will come from the Ministry of Agriculture.
* The Ministry of Religious Affairs is giving NIS 50 million (30 percent of its budget) to build synagogues inside settlements.
* The Ministry of Education is offering free education to children and free university studies to teachers working in settlements schools, at a cost of NIS 30 million.
* The Ministry of Infrastructure is providing NIS 9.7 million for water projects.
* The Ministry of Interior is offering NIS 480 million.
These moves to increase the number of settlers in the West Bank, provided by successive Israeli governments, have encouraged even the non-religious to move to settlements. However, they have so far failed to change the demography of the West Bank. The Israeli government claims settlement expansion is happening naturally, despite registering a population growth of eight and a half percent, four times higher than in the rest of Israel.
The Israeli military administration has issued a series of orders to limit Palestinian access to water and land. These laws directly affect the Palestinian agricultural sector, exacerbating the economic problems in the Palestinian Territories. Most agricultural land is located in Area C (fully controlled by Israel). Large areas of cultivable land were confiscated and classified as closed military areas. Thirty percent of West Bank land is inaccessible to Palestinians and used solely by Israeli military forces. Cultivated area has declined in recent years from more than 240,000 hectares to 178,669 hectares. Only 70,000 hectares of rangeland, out of a total 220,000, are accessible to Palestinian shepherds in the West Bank and Gaza. This limited area can provide food for less than 15 percent of the Palestinian population. Moreover, 7,000 hectares adjacent to the Jordan River have been completely sealed off, 800 hectares of which is highly fertile, cultivable land.
Most urban expansion is limited to Areas A and B, due to the difficulties of building in Area C. This pattern of urban development has destroyed large areas of agricultural land within Areas A and B, due to the scarcity of open space for development.
West Bank settlers 60
West Bank Palestinians 725
Gaza Settlers 51
Gaza Palestinians 4,454
Satellite imagery and aerial photography of Palestinian urban agglomerations shows no more than 368.5 km2 of urban areas in the West Bank, 6.29 percent of the total area. In Gaza, Palestinian built-up area is 50.3 km², 13.7 percent of the total area. Palestinian population density in the West Bank is 5,449/km2 while in Gaza it is 23,600/ km2.
These figures are extremely high. Under more stable conditions, population density could be calculated by dividing the total number of inhabitants by the total area. Currently this form of calculation is impossible, as political boundaries are no more than lines on a map and the actual area accessible to Palestinians is far smaller than that defined by Areas A, B and C. Israel’s population density (238/km2) meanwhile, compares with European norms.
Israeli policies have increased pressure on the land that is accessible to Palestinians. Physical infrastructure, including road networks, public buildings and sewage systems, has deteriorated. Overcrowding creates a breeding ground for health problems and social unrest. The depletion of resources resulting from the Israeli occupation is preventing the establishment of Palestinian sovereignty, the key reason for conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Israeli control over much Palestinian territory, checkpoints, land expropriation and a lack of geographical continuity prohibit the creation of a sustainable Palestinian state. The Palestinian economy relies on Israel’s, both for labor and access to international trade. As a result of the current Intifada, Israel is tightening its grip on Palestinian resources.
Israeli forces and settlers harass Palestinian farmers, uprooting their trees, restricting their movement, separating villages and destroying agricultural lands, all under the pretext of security. Limited access to the fertile Jordan Valley harms the agriculture sector. A dependent economy, and a lack of sovereignty over water and land resources, have left Palestinians extremely vulnerable to external upheaval.
Re-demarcation of the Geographic Boundaries of the Palestinian State
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s latest plan is for Israel to retain control over 60 percent of the West Bank, returning just 40 percent to the Palestinians. This 40 percent would not only deprive Palestinians of most of their agricultural and grazing lands, it would fragment the West Bank into 64 disconnected entities. Such an arrangement eliminates the possibility of creating a viable state and leaves the Palestinians permanently subject to Israel. The resulting Palestinian enclaves would be completely surrounded and movement between them dependent on Israeli approval. What Sharon calls the western and eastern security areas, along with the hill aquifer, are the most fertile parts of the West Bank and the richest sources of water.
All Israeli settlements would be placed inside a special security zone, with additional areas slated for their expansion. Between April and November, 2002, Sharon’s government renewed its policy of unilateral segregation between the West Bank and Israeli-controlled territories. In April, 2002, an order by the steering committee dealing with the Apartheid Wall (Security Fence) called for an immediate start to construction of the wall in the northern West Bank and the Jerusalem area. The wall will cover at least 350 km, encircling the West Bank and re-demarcating its boundaries. The first phase of the wall will be approximately 115 km long and will include electric fences, trenches, cameras and security patrols. More than two percent of the West Bank will be expropriated to Israel proper, and at least 30 villages will lose part or all of their lands during this phase. This will force Palestinians living between the Green Line (1949 Armistice Line) and the wall to leave their homes, effectively a population transfer. The Wall is designed to incorporate all Israeli settlements, built on Palestinian territories east of the Green Line, into Israel. Its route will satisfy settlers security needs and create facts on the ground that could benefit Israel in the future peace negotiations. Israeli control over large parts of the Occupied Territories has already affected geographic contiguity there, making integrated planning or development unfeasible.
Peace, justice and sustainability will not be achieved without an equitable distribution of natural resources. Denying Palestinians access to these contravenes international law. Israeli policies are causing intolerable hardship and suffering. A lasting peace can only be based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, in which a fully sovereign Palestinian state will be established on the Palestinian land occupied by Israel in 1967, bordering a secure and independent Israeli state. Finally, peace built on an equity of resources and rights will sustain and guarantee security for both sides.
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