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The West Bank

The area largely conceded to be a logical site for a Palestinian State is what is called the West Bank of the Jordan River, now under Israeli occupation. However, a number of Jewish settlements have been implanted in the occupied territories by Israel, with a great many more planned. This creation of "new facts" not only is in violation of international law and the United Nations Charter, but it makes more difficult an already difficult situation. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of the Interior, 1,561,000 Palestinians live in Judea and Samaria. In contrast, a census conducted by the PA in 1996 found 1,370,000 Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.

Palestine proper is bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Lebanon; on the east by the Jordan, Dead Sea, and 'Arabah; on the south by the desert; and on the west by the Mediterranean. Along the Mediterranean coast is a plain, about fifteen to twenty miles wide at its southernmost end, and gradually narrowing to the northward. East of the maritime plain, and parallel to it, is a series of mountain chains. Ascending from the plateau the rounded summits about Hebron attain a height of about thirty-two hundred feet. The highest point in Jerusalem is about twenty-seven hundred feet above the Mediterranean; the Mount of Olives, twenty-seven hundred and twenty-four hundred feet. The Jordan valley commences in that of the Hasbani, on the western flank of Hermon. The valley, at its broadest part, at the parallel of Jericho, is about twelve miles wide. The Dead Sea is inclosed by mountains rising about four thousand feet from its surface, and in most places leaving not even a beach between their steep, often precipitous, sides and the sea. The tableland of Gilead descends at the latitude of the southern end of the Sea of Tiberias to the lower tableland of Hauran.

Prior to the First World War, the area now known as the West Bank was under Ottoman rule as part of the province of Syria. In the 1920 San Remo conference, the victorious Allied powers allocated the area to the British Mandate of Palestine. When the British government was given authority over Palestine under the League of Nations Mandate after the First World War, the area compassed Transjordan as well, the western part of which also had extensive associations with the history of the Israelite tribes. In 1922 Transjordan was separated from western Palestine in order to create a territory, encompassing both East and West Banks of the Jordan, for Emir Abdullah, Britain's client. In 1988 King Hussein of Jordan made a historic speech in which he declared that Jordan no longer had any claim to the West Bank. Henceforth, anyone wanting to deal with the Palestine issue should talk to the PLO.

Initially there were several reasons for the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories: The establishment of new frontiers for the state of Israel, and the holding down of the Arab population of the occupied territories in a state of permanent subjugation. The first, is to establish the future permanent border of the state of Israel in the consciousness of the Israeli Jews first of all; in the consciousness of the Diaspora Jews who are providing some of the money involved; and finally be creating "faits accomplis" in the eyes of world opinion to finish this process. In this connection the plan of the "inland population strip" as enunciated by General Sharon (Jerusalem Post, September 9, 1977) and which was based on plans proposed informally at least a year before, clearly showed the "Greater Israel" with a heavily populated eastern border "extending from the Golan, through the Jordan Rift Valley, the Arava and down to Sharm el-Sheikh". But there was a second reason for the settlements, a reason as important as the first: To divide the Arabs of the occupied territories into small segments, divide one from another by the "lines" or "wedges" of Jewish settlements, in order to make them "manageable" for the future of permanent subjugation.

The September 1993 Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements provided for a transitional period of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Under a series of agreements signed between May 1994 and September 1999, Israel transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA) security and civilian responsibility for many Palestinian-populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Negotiations to determine the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza stalled following the outbreak of an intifada in September 2000. In April 2003, the Quartet (US, EU, UN, and Russia) presented a roadmap to a final settlement of the conflict by 2005 based on reciprocal steps by the two parties leading to two states, Israel and a democratic Palestine.

Palestinian leader Yasir ARAFAT died in November 2004, and by January 2005 a new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was elected. A month later, Israel and the PA agreed to the Sharm el-Sheikh Commitments in an effort to move the peace process forward. By this time, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had decided that negotiations could take a back seat to unilateral Israeli moves and he had committed to withdrawing his troops and settlers from Gaza by fall 2005, while speeding the construction of a barrier between the West Bank and Israel. Many thought the barrier eventually would mark the line that Israel might be prepared to accept as a future border. In September 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew all its settlers and soldiers and dismantled its military facilities in the Gaza Strip and withdrew settlers and redeployed soldiers from four small northern West Bank settlements. Nonetheless, Israel still controls maritime, airspace, and most access to the Gaza Strip.

January 2006 saw two dramatic developments. Sharon suffered a massive stroke from which he did not recover. He was succeeded by Ehud Olmert, a less experienced politician who took time to find his footing. On the Palestinian side, elections were held for the Legislative Council in January 2006 and the Islamic Resistance Movement, HAMAS, won a surprising victory to control of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). This meant that the new democratically elected prime minister would be from a party that still contested Israel's right to exist, while the president was from the Fatah Party mainstream and was committed to negotiations.

HAMAS took control of the PA government in March 2006, but President ABBAS had little success negotiating with HAMAS to present a political platform acceptable to the international community so as to lift economic sanctions on Palestinians. Violent clashes between Fatah and HAMAS supporters in the Gaza Strip in 2006 and early 2007 resulted in numerous Palestinian deaths and injuries. This awkward situation prevailed well into 2007, when the two major factions within Palestinian society engaged in a sharp conflict in June 2007 that left Hamas in control of Gaza and the PLO dominant in the West Bank. The Palestinian National Unity Government (NUG) experiment was ended, and a new Fatah/Independent government was established by Abbas with somewhat doubtful legitimacy.

Despite multiple rounds of Egyptian-brokered reconciliation negotiations, the two groups have failed to bridge their differences. The status quo remained with HAMAS in control of the Gaza Strip and ABBAS and the Fatah-dominated PA governing the West Bank. FAYYAD and his PA government continue to implement a series of security and economic reforms to improve conditions in the West Bank. ABBAS has said he will not resume negotiations with current Prime Minister NETANYAHU until Israel halts all settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The deployment of PA security forces throughout the West Bank beginning in 2007 has increased to all major cities. Violence in recent years has decreased markedly throughout the West Bank since the PA's security deployment. Among major West Bank cities, the level of violence is lowest in Jericho, Bethlehem, and Ramallah. Bethlehem, one of the most important religious sites to members of the Christian faith, is a significant stop for many pilgrims to the Holy Land. Following further deployments of PA security forces in 2008, the security situation in major cities within the Palestinian territories has also improved. U.S. Government employees frequently travel in the West Bank, with appropriate security measures.

Dozens of American firms have established agencies and distributorships, and Palestinian consumers have a strong preference for a wide variety of U.S. goods and services. Many American companies have reoriented their marketing efforts to acknowledge the Palestinian market as culturally, economically, and commercially distinct from the Israeli market. The U.S. Commercial Service in Jerusalem strongly encourages American exporters wishing to market their goods in the West Bank to use local Palestinian agents and distributors. Using Israeli agents for Palestinian markets does not utilize local, Palestinian market expertise, and does not allow U.S. firms to maximize their sales exposure to the local market.

Despite relatively low incomes, there is a sizeable middle/upper-middle class. The West Bank and Gaza (WB/G) have a population of around 4 million and boast one of the highest per capita rates of university graduates in the Arab world. Palestinians have a long-standing tradition of spending generously on higher education, regarded as an asset.

The United States is the leading provider of bilateral economic and development assistance to the Palestinians, having provided an estimated $2.9 billion since 1994 for programs in the areas of water and sanitation, infrastructure, education, health care, economic growth, and democracy.

Despite the markedly enhanced responsibilities and capabilities of PA ministries and other institutions, WB/G remain highly dependent on Israeli supplies, labor markets and export opportunities. About 85% of Palestinian annual imports are purchased from Israel and all Palestinian exports must go through Israel or Israeli-controlled checkpoints. Israeli currency (New Israeli Shekel-NIS) is used for most day-to-day transactions, although the Jordanian dinar is also considered to be legal tender and is frequently used for large purchases, such as real estate (as are US dollars). Most savings are held in U.S. dollars. Repatriated wages from Palestinian day laborers in Israel have traditionally provided cash that sustains many local businesses, so the Palestinian economy in WB/G is highly vulnerable to Israeli policies.

Resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the gradual restoration by Palestinians of greater control over their own economy has begun to spark increased donor spending on institution building and some major capital projects.



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