This week, on a visit to the Israel’s tourism bureau in Nazareth, I came across an official brochure, “Your Next Vacation: Israel”, that suggests the answer. The brochure is supplied to travel agents around the world as well as to hundreds of thousands of tourists who arrive in Israel each year.
Inside is a map, produced by the Ministry of Tourism, that shows both Israel and the occupied territories. Helpfully, it incorporates Israel’s interpretation of the territorial demarcations created by the Oslo Accords of the mid-1990s.
Oslo divided the West Bank into three parts temporarily – for a period of five years – while Israel and the Palestinians were supposed to negotiate a final-status agreement that, it was widely assumed, would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Area A, the smallest part of the West Bank and restricted chiefly to the main Palestinian cities, was placed under the full control of the newly created Palestinian Authority.
Area B, mainly covering the areas around the cities, was under the shared control of the PA and Israel, with Israel taking charge of security matters and the Palestinians responsible for civil affairs.
Today, Areas A and B together cover about 39 per cent of the West Bank.
But by far the largest portion of the West Bank, Area C, was handed over to Israel’s full control. It was assumed by most observers that this land, 61 per cent of the West Bank, would eventually become the territorial bulk of a future Palestinian state.
Over the past two decades, however, Israel has used its hold over Area C – and the lack of an agreement, due to its own intransigence – to entrench and expand the settlements there.
There are now nearly 350,000 Jewish settlers living in more than 250 settlements and outposts dotted all over Area C (a further 200,000 settlers live in East Jerusalem). These settlers, backed by Israeli soldiers and a network of civilian and military bureaucrats, have created a reign of terror that has gradually encouraged Palestinians in Area C to migrate to the cities, still nominally under Palestinian Authority control.
There were once hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Area C, most making their living from agriculture. Today, some estimates put that number below 100,000, but the population is certainly no higher than 150,000. Of these, most live in extreme poverty and insecurity:
- their homes are liable to be demolished at any moment;
- they can access water expensively and intermittently from water-trucks only;
- their livelihoods as farming communities are under constant threat from water shortages, land confiscations and the walls and fences Israel constantly erects to divide up their holdings;
- and their physical safety is threatened by attacks from ever-more fanatical settlers living nearby.