West Bank

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

West Bank

West Bank, territory, formerly part of Palestine, after 1949 administered by Jordan, since 1967 largely occupied by Israel (2005 est. pop. 2,386,000), 2,165 sq mi (5,607 sq km), west of the Jordan River, incorporating the northwest quadrant of the Dead Sea. Since mid-1994 limited Palestinian self-rule has existed in portions of the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority. Israelis who regard the area as Jewish territory often refer to it by the biblical names of Judaea and Samaria. The largest and most historically important cities are Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Jericho. East Jerusalem is regarded as part of the West Bank by Arabs; however, Israel has incorporated it into the larger Jerusalem economy and municipality. In addition to the Palestinian population, some 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem or other West Bank territories that Israel has annexed to Jersusalem.

People and Economy

About 75% of the population of the West Bank consists of Sunni Muslim Palestinian Arabs, many of whom live in large, impoverished refugee camps; 17% are Jewish Israelis living in government-subsidized settlements; and the rest are mainly Christian Palestinian Arabs. Arabic, Hebrew, and English are spoken. The land in the N West Bank is fertile, and olives, citrus and other fruits, vegetables, beef, and dairy products are produced. Family businesses and small-scale industries manufacture such goods as architectural limestone, textiles, and handicrafts, although investment capital is paltry. The area is also dependent on work in neighboring Israel for employment. Real economic development has been stagnated by a lack of resources and often set back by the Arab-Israeli violence arising out of the occupation and in response to Palestinian attacks in Israel; Israeli control of roughly 50% of the region's land and over roads and other key segments of the infrastructure also has been an impediment to development of the Palestinian economy.

History

The West Bank was declared part of Jordanian territory after Israel and Jordan signed armistice agreements in 1949. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the area remained under Israeli occupation. Conflicts with Arab residents there grew in the late 1970s as Israeli Jewish settlers, encouraged by the Begin administration, began a series of large-scale housing developments. Although the Camp David accords (1978) incorporated plans for Arab self-rule in the West Bank, this goal remained elusive.

Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 1982 to destroy Palestinian armed bases exacerbated rioting and political turmoil in the West Bank. Israel responded with military curfews and increased Israeli troop presence. The development of the Intifada (Palestinian uprising), which began in the Gaza Strip in 1987, embroiled the West Bank in outbreaks of stone-throwing, protests, and violent attacks and led to Israeli reprisals, resulting in hundreds of Palestinian deaths, property damage, high unemployment, and reduced living standards. The 1991 Persian Gulf War created further economic hardship as Palestinian workers returned en masse from the war zone.

Rioting and clashes with Israeli troops continued into the 1990s. An accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), reached in 1993 after secret negotiations, led to the establishment of the Palestianian Authority and limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in mid-1994. Agreements providing for a transfer of control to Palestinians in the West Bank town of Jericho and the Gaza Strip, and then in the other West Bank cities and towns (except East Jerusalem), were finalized in 1994 and 1995 and largely implemented by early 1996. In Mar., 1996, Israel sealed off many towns in the West Bank following a series of suicide bombings inside Israel. Most of Hebron was handed over to the Palestinians in 1997 and, in a 1998 accord, Israel agreed to withdraw from additional West Bank territory. Although progress was slow, this was accomplished by Mar., 2000. Any chance of further progress was stymied by a new cycle of violence that began in the fall after Ariel Sharon visited the Haram esh-Sherif (or Temple Mount) in Jerusalem.

Israel's construction of a security barrier in the West Bank became an international issue in 2003. It was begun in 2002 in the N West Bank, where it paralleled the border, and around Jerusalem, but its planned extension south and into the West Bank to protect Israeli settlements brought widespread condemnation because of West Bank territory it would enclosed and the many Palestinians whose lives would be disrupted. An International Court of Justice opinion (2004), requested by the UN General Assembly, termed barrier illegal, in part because it encloses Palestinian territory. Israeli court decisions have several times ordered the wall partially rerouted because of the hardship it would cause.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005 after Arafat's death. He and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon subsequently agreed to a truce, and in Mar., 2005, Israeli forces began handing over control of Jericho and other West Bank towns to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Subsequent violence, however, halted and reversed the process. A few Israeli settlements in the N West Bank were evacuated in 2005 in conjunction with the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. By mid-2009, Israel had eased its control over a number of towns while not restoring full PA control. That same year Israel halted new settlement construction for ten months while negotiations occurred; construction subsequently resumed.

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