The Changing Character of Israel's Occupation: Planning and Civilian control/Comment: Israel's Occupation of the West Bank/Comment: Ethical Issues Confronting Planners in the West Bank/A Response to the Comments

By Paz-Fuchs, Amir; Cohen-Lifshitz, Alon et al. | The Town Planning Review, November 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Changing Character of Israel's Occupation: Planning and Civilian control/Comment: Israel's Occupation of the West Bank/Comment: Ethical Issues Confronting Planners in the West Bank/A Response to the Comments


Paz-Fuchs, Amir, Cohen-Lifshitz, Alon, Carmon, Naomi, Marcuse, Peter, The Town Planning Review


Israel's occupation of the West Bank is literally changing before our eyes. What began as a form of military control with marginal, messianic undertones, has transformed into a fully fledged sovereign endeavour, which has two central pillars. The first relates to the Palestinian population and aims to restrict their access to land and to development in the West bank. The second focuses on the seam between Jews and Palestinians and may be termed the policy of separation.

The settlement division of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), a non-governmental body that served for many years as the main channel for the foundation of settlements and the direction of state funds for this purpose, prepared a master plan for the Samaria Regional Council in the West Bank in 1983. Of the objectives stated by the plan, those that stand out are 'limiting the dispersion of Arab buildings' and 'preventing the creation of blocks of Arab communities'. The plan emphasised that insofar as areas adjacent to the 1948/49 armistice Green Line were concerned, 'immediate action on the subject of planning is essential both within and outside the area' (WZO, 1983, 7-8).

Such candour is quite rare, and it is probably no coincidence that no government document expresses Israel's planning objectives in the West Bank in such forthright a manner. However, the WZO's professed aim, along with its central role in the planning and development of the West Bank, provides the necessary structure through which Israel's actions may be understood, especially during the last 15 years.

The separation principle, epitomised in (then) Prime Minister's Ehud Barak's quip: 'Us here, them there', has become a governing policy of Israel's control of the West Bank. Spatially, the principle consists of two kinds of separations - first, between Israel and the West Bank; and, second, between Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Palestinian villages and inhabitants. Although this perception serves now as a paradigm for Israeli rule in the West Bank, it is a relatively recent one. Separation has supplemented, and then supplanted, the effort to control and manage the lives of Palestinian population. Through the deployment of planning and legal instruments, Israel reorganised its use of power, thus continuing the occupation by other means (Gordon, 2008; Dayan, 2009). Understanding these means requires clarifying the regime within which Israel operates in the West Bank. Immediately following the occupation of the West Bank, Israel began, in a calculated and strategic fashion, to settle the land. Over the years, 120 settlements and 100 outposts were erected, most as a government initiative, and some as part of the settler movement. The dispersing of the settlements resembled the work of a farmer scattering his seeds throughout his plot, hoping and intending that the crop will cover it all (see Figure 1). The location of the settlements and the system of control that derives from it was decisive in times of tension and conflict (e.g. the first and second Intifida), but is also important in times of calm, thus enabling and motivating the construction of bypass roads that created a new grid of restriction and control (B'Tselem, 2004; Dayan, 2009).

Following the 1995 Oslo Accords, as amended in a series of later agreements, the West Bank was divided into three administrative zones: in terms of the division of powers between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with respect to physical planning, Areas A and B, which amounted to 40% of the West Bank's land and 96% of the Palestinian population, are identical. In these regions the Palestinian Authority was awarded planning and building powers. In Area C, which covers 60% of the West Bank (3.4 million dunams or 340,000 hectares) and 150,000 Palestinians (4% of the population), Israel retained responsibility not only for issues of security and public order, but also for civil issues relating to territory, such as planning, zoning and archaeology.

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