Systematic Israeli policies undermine Palestinian statehood aspirations
Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part article. Read part two here.
Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank ever since the Oslo Accords were signed have seen Palestinians hemmed in, pushed off their land and discriminated against under separate legal systems. The implications of these policies are simple: If they are not rolled back, they will leave a two-state solution impossible, contrary to the stated desire of the international community and signed agreements between Palestinians and the Israelis.
Following years of negotiations between the Israelis and
|If businesses and farms were permitted to develop in Area C, this would add as much as 35 percent to the Palestinian GDP.|
Palestinians the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. Two years later the Interim Agreement came into being whereby the West Bank would be transformed, so it was thought, into an independent Palestinian state. The Israeli military would gradually withdraw, first from the cities and larger towns at first then later the rural areas surrounding them, the 62 percent of the West Bank designated under Oslo as Area C. Then the issue of Jerusalem was to be settled. It was a time of hope and optimism.
The optimism was short-lived. Rather than gradually withdraw, with its complete military and civil control, Israel instead consolidated its grip on Area C. The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank – not counting occupied Jerusalem – has risen from 100,000 in 1993 to more than 350,000, all of whom live in Area C. During the same period Israel demolished over 15,000 Palestinian structures including homes, water systems, agricultural buildings and other vital property. Today there are 4,500 outstanding demolition orders on Palestinian structures. The effect has been a de facto annexation of Area C in which Israel can largely do as it pleases.
A large toolbox
Israel has a large toolbox of measures designed to control and shape Palestinian life. Particularly crucial is the Occupation’s control of planning and construction in Area C. It is virtually impossible for Palestinians to develop their land. Seventy per cent of Area C is off limits for any kind of Palestinian development. In theory, Palestinians can build in 29 percent but Israel operates a permit system and 94 percent of applications are unsuccessful. In only 1 percent is development allowed. Meanwhile settlements - built-up areas, municipal and regional councils - now cover 63 percent of Area C amounting to 37 percent of the entire West Bank.
This situation has the effect of driving Palestinians out of Area C to produce a situation where settlers now form a majority – in effect a continuation of the ethnic-cleansing of historic Palestine which began in 1948. It concentrates the Palestinian population into the 40 percent of land comprising Areas A and B. It also ensures the demise of the two-state solution.
The occupation has also imposed a dual legal system in Area C which allows settlers privileges over the indigenous population. Palestinians are subject to harsh Israeli military law whose courts preside over a conviction rate of 99.7 percent. On the other hand, settlers enjoy the safeguards of Israeli civil law. The result is institutionalised discrimination based on ethnicity under the guise of the ‘law’.
Allied to this is the increasing phenomenon of settler violence towards both persons and property. In 2013, there were 93 recorded settler-violence incidents resulting in 146 Palestinian injuries as well as 306 incidents resulting in damage to Palestinian private property. The seriousness of the situation is compounded by the fact that, according to the Israeli legal rights group Yesh Din, the Israeli police are less than effective in bringing the culprits to justice. Between 2005 and 2014 just 7.4 percent of investigation files ended in the indictment of Israelis suspected of harming Palestinians and their property. In the vast majority of cases, the investigators failed to locate the offenders or to collect sufficient evidence for prosecution.
Israeli policies in Area C have been scrutinised by numerous organisations over the years from the UN to human rights groups to NGOs. Their reports are numerous and far-reaching. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), for example, found that Israel’s restrictions in Area C means that in the Bethlehem Governorate only 13 percent of the land area was open for Palestinian development.
Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy, a report published by the World Bank in 2013, has shown that more than half the land in the West Bank, much of it agricultural and resource rich, is inaccessible to Palestinians. The result, according to the Bank, is a disastrous loss to the Palestinian economy of about US$3.4 billion. The report goes on to say that if businesses and farms were permitted to develop in Area C, this would add as much as 35 percent to the Palestinian GDP.
Destroying the economy
Save the Children reported in 2009 that amongst Palestinian herder and Bedouin communities – who face the harshest Israeli restrictions in Area C of the West Bank – 79 percent of households were food insecure, much higher at that time than the averages for both the West Bank and Gaza.
A joint study involving the Palestine Counselling Centre, the Welfare Association and Save the Children found that the experience of house demolitions is a major source of mental health problems. It found that, “Children who have had their home demolished fare significantly worse on a range of mental-health indicators, including withdrawal, somatic complaints, depression/anxiety, social difficulties, higher rates of delusional, obsessive, compulsive and psychotic thoughts, attention difficulties, delinquency and violent behaviour.”
Typically Palestinians living in Area C are impoverished and adhere to the conservative culture and familial roles associated with rural communities in the Middle East. In such circumstances, Israeli policies often have a disproportionate impact on women and girls as their lives traditionally revolve around the private sphere of the home. Women also experience anxiety, depression and distress in fear and anticipation of demolitions and forced evictions as well as having to deal with issues such as food insecurity.
Oxfam has long complained that Israel’s policies in Area C about the effects on the local Palestinian population. In a briefing paper of 2012 it noted that in the Jordan Valley, which has the potential to be the breadbasket of any future Palestinian state, the persistent expansion of Israeli settlements and the associated settlement-only infrastructure together with restrictions on Palestinian development have made life extremely difficult for Palestinian communities. Indeed, the Jordan Valley has suffered a huge decline of its Palestinian population since the occupation began
There are many instances in recent years where development projects funded by international agencies have been subject to demolition orders. Comet ME, a European funded NGO, provides alternative energy to communities in the South Hebron Hills that are denied permits to link up the electricity grid. But all the solar panels and wind turbines in these villages have demolition orders placed on them. Recently the Israeli government threatened to demolish emergency shelters provided by Oxfam for people made homeless in Area C.
That Israel’s policies in Occupied Palestine, Area C in particular, are harmful and oppressive towards Palestinians is without doubt. It is also clear that the Palestinians cannot afford to wait for a comprehensive political solution to find relief from the unbearable conditions imposed on them. Attempting to force Israel to act as a responsible occupier should not be connected to the continuation of the political process. It is already enshrined in international law and treaties that the occupying power has the duty to ensure the welfare of those living under occupation.