Territory disputed between Israel and the Palestinians, demarcated by the Green Line to the west and the Jordan River to the east.
The West Bank refers to the territory situated west of the Jordan River that was not included as part of Israel following the establishment of the state after the Arab–Israel War of 1948. The West Bank's total area is 2,270 square miles (5,880 sq. km), smaller than the area that was originally allocated to a future Arab state by the United Nations partition resolution of November 1947. It is demarcated by the Green Line (the armistice line set by the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli talks at Rhodes) in the west and the Jordan River in the east.
The West Bank occupies a place in the international consciousness far larger than its geography would suggest. The term acquired greater political significance and only came into common usage after the 1967 Arab-Israel War, when the area was separated from the rest of the Kingdom of Jordan (the East Bank). Many Israelis—and in particular the settlers—use the biblical term "Judea and Samaria" (Hebrew, Yehuda ve Shomron) to describe this region.
King Abdullah I ibn Hussein annexed the area to Jordan in April 1950 but, with only Great Britain and Pakistan recognizing this move, the region has remained without any clear status in international
law. During the 1967 Arab-Israel War, Israel captured the region, occupying it fully until 1994, and parts of it thereafter. Since 1994, parts of the West Bank have been transferred to the Palestinian Authority under the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accord. The region forms the core of a possible future sovereign Palestinian state.
According to international law, Israel has administered the West Bank since June 1967 as a belligerent occupant. On 7 June 1967 Israel's area commander for the West Bank issued a military proclamation declaring the assumption by the Israel Defense Force (IDF) area commander of all governmental, legislative, appointive, and administrative power over the region and its inhabitants. Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank continued until 1995 to be ruled under this system of military government. Municipal governments and village councils administered local services. As the occupying power, Israel both permitted and canceled scheduled elections for local governments and appointed and dismissed elected and appointed Palestinians as officials.
The region has been subject to widespread Israeli settlement activity since 1967. The settlements are administered under a municipal system separate from that of the Palestinian towns and villages. In 1992 the Israeli settlement of Maʿale Adumim, with a population of 15,000, became the first Israeli city in the West Bank.
On 27 June 1967 Israeli law, jurisdiction, and public administration were extended over a 28-square-mile (73 sq. km) area of the West Bank, including the 2.3 square miles (6 sq. km) that had constituted the municipal boundaries of East Jerusalem under Jordanian rule. This de facto annexation placed East Jerusalem and its Palestinian inhabitants under Israeli sovereignty. East Jerusalem is now considered by Israel an indivisible part of its capital city. Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Other cities in the West Bank include Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and Jericho. The total population of the region in 2003 consisted of some 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank, with a further 180,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Over 200,000 Israeli settlers lived in the West Bank and a further 170,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem.
In 1967 the Palestinian population of the region was largely agricultural, but under Israeli rule many left agriculture to find employment in the Israeli cities as menial laborers. Following the onset of the first intifada in 1987, most of the Palestinians were excluded from the Israeli labor market, giving rise to widespread unemployment and severe poverty. In early 2003 the economic situation of the population was worse than it had ever been since 1967.
In September 1993 the signing of the Oslo Accord marked the beginning of a transition to Palestinian self-rule. The West Bank was divided into Areas A, B, and C, with the Palestinian Authority taking over full administration in Area A, including all of the major urban centers, and partial control in Area B, including most of the Palestinian villages, while Israel retained full control in Area C, including most of the Jordan Valley, the areas in close proximity to the Green Line boundary, and around Jerusalem. Following the al-Aqsa Intifada, which began in September 2000, the Sharon government sent the IDF to reoccupy some Palestinian towns. The status of the West Bank was still awaiting resolution when a package of proposals, known as the "Road Map," was drawn up and sponsored by "the Quartet"—the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations—in 2003.
see also israeli settlements; palestinian authority.
Aronson, Geoffrey. Israel, Palestinians, and the Intifada: Creating Facts in the West Bank. London and New York: Kegan Paul, 1990.
Benvenisti, Meron. The West Bank Data Project. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984.
Benvenisti, Meron, and Khayat, Shlomo. The West Bank and Gaza Atlas. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988.
Newman, David. "The Evolution of a Political Landscape: Geographical and Territorial Implications of Jewish Colonization in the West Bank." Middle Eastern Studies 21, no. 2 (1985): 192–205.
Shehadeh, Raja. Occupier's Law: Israel and the West Bank. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1985.
Shehadeh, Raja, and Kuttab, Jonathan. The West Bank and the Rule of Law. Geneva and New York: International Commission of Jurists, 1980.
updated by david newman
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 (PA). 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.
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 PA 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 enclosed Palestinian territory. Israeli court decisions 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 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, but the number of Israeli settlers continued to increase. 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.
Since 1994 the West Bank has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the governing body of the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As of 2005 Palestine was not yet an independent sovereign state, although the Palestinian people hoped to achieve independence from Israel.
The West Bank lies to the west of Jordan. Occupying 5,860 square kilometers (2,263 square miles, slightly larger than the state of Delaware), it is surrounded to the north, west, and south by Israel. Mountains reaching elevations of 3,000 feet run north to south. Their western slopes receive moderate winter rains, whereas their eastern slopes, leading to the Jordan Valley, are arid.
The current population of the West Bank was estimated at 2.4 million in 2004. Most are Palestinian Arabs and Muslims; a small minority (approximately 10%) are Palestinian Christians. Almost 700,000 West Bank Palestinians are refugees from the areas of former Palestine that became Israel in 1948. About one-third of this group lives in nineteen refugee camps administered by the United Nations (UN). Since 1967 a Jewish settler population has grown steadily; in 2004 it numbered some 400,000 people.
The West Bank economy is primarily agricultural, with minimal industry. Remittances from migrant laborers—the vast majority working in adjacent Israel—and from the Palestinian diaspora provide a vital source of income. Since the 1990s employment within the emergent Palestinian bureaucracy has also sustained many Palestinian families.
The West Bank was formerly part of the Palestine Mandate, administered by Great Britain from 1923 to 1948. During the war following Israel's declaration of independence, the West Bank fell under Jordanian rule. Jordan annexed the West Bank and gradually enacted a program of legal unification with the East Bank. The courts and administrative departments were absorbed into their Jordanian counterparts.
Israel conquered the West Bank during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It did not annex the West Bank, but through a military government has issued orders regulating virtually every aspect of life. Israel also has sponsored settlement of Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers. East Jerusalem was annexed and made subject to Israeli domestic law and administration. The UN has officially characterized both the annexation of East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements on the West Bank as illegal.
Parts of the West Bank fell under a so-called Palestinian Authority (PA) that was created in the Oslo Accords, a series of agreements concluded between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993. In 1996 PLO leader Yasser Arafat (1929–2004) was elected president of the PA, and eighty-eight members of a Palestine Legislative Council were also elected.
The PA was not formed as a sovereign state under the Oslo Accords; it lacks full functional and territorial control over the region. In 2002 Israel reinvaded the West Bank, ostensibly to destroy the terrorist movement responsible for numerous deadly attacks on Israelis, but also crippling much of the PA infrastructure. Arafat's authoritarian tendencies and charges of corruption and incompetence within the PA led to reforms in 2002 and 2003. After Arafat's death in November 2004, West Bank and Gazan Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas (b. 1935) as president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas, a principal architect of the Oslo Accords, declared an end to the armed intifada (uprising) against Israel, and promoted negotiations toward a final peace. It remains to be seen whether the democratic sovereign state that Palestinians have long sought will emerge.
Brown, Nathan. Palestinian Politics After the Oslo Accords: Resuming Arab Palestine. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
Robinson, Glenn. Building a Palestinian State: The Incomplete Revolution. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1997.
George E. Bisharat
The area of Mandatory Palestine inside the 1949 armistice line west of the Jordan River, including East Jerusalem, not controlled by Israel at the end of the 1948 War. Covering an area of 2,270 square miles, the West Bank was controlled by the Jordanians following the war and occupied by Israel following the 1967 War. Its principal cities, in addition to East Jerusalem, are Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, Ramallah, Tulkarm, and Jenin. The West Bank was a part of the Arab state whose creation was proposed in the partition plan adopted by the United Nations by General Assembly Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947. Referred to by many Israelis as "Judea and Samaria," it was opened to settlement by the Israeli government and is home to several hundred thousand Israeli settlers. In 1978, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza showed strong opposition to the Camp David Accords, which led to Israeli military and administrative repression. In 1982 the majority of Palestinian mayors were discharged and replaced by Israeli administrators. This measure, combined with the departure of Palestinian forces from Lebanon, moved a group of young West Bank intellectuals to oppose the Israeli occupation openly, a move that resulted in a great number of arrests.
In December 1987 the Intifada broke out in the Gaza Strip and spread to the West Bank. On the following 15 November, at a meeting of the Palestine
National Council in Algiers, Yasir Arafat proclaimed the creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. In May 1994 the Oslo Accords led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and Jericho became the first autonomous territory under its control. The following year, the Oslo Accords II allowed approximately one-third of the West Bank to recover partial autonomy and the Israel Defense Force started withdrawing from the principal cities, with the exception of Hebron. According to the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles signed on 13 September 1993 in Washington, D.C., the "definitive and permanent" status of the West Bank and Gaza should have been decided by the end of 1999. In late September 2000 a new uprising, the al-Aqsa Intifada, broke out in the Palestinian territories. In 2002 Israel reinvaded and reoccupied many West Bank cities. Israel has also increased its confiscations of Palestinian property, increased its restrictions on Palestinian movement and economic activity, increased Israeli settlement, and begun to construct a "separation wall" between Jewish and Palestinian areas inside the Green Line.
SEE ALSO Aqsa Intifada, al-; Arab-Israel War (1948); Arab-Israel War (1967); Arafat, Yasir; British Mandate; Camp David Accords; Gaza Strip; Intifada (1987–1993); Jordan River; Oslo Accords; Oslo Accords II; Palestine National Council; Palestinian Authority; Resolution 181.