Palestine in a Century

 

Since the beginning of this century, the Palestinians have been fighting for their land, independence, and liberty. In 1917, Palestine was governed by the British. It was in that year that the "Balfour Declaration" was drafted as a result of continuing Zionist pressure supporting a Jewish state in the area. Over thirty years later, in 1948, Israel was finally declared a state. The State of Israel was founded on approximately four-fifths of Palestine, taking more land than the United Nations' 1947 Partition Plan had proposed.


During and after the 1948 War, a transfer policy was carried out and four out of every five Palestinians in the area inside Israel became refugees. Approximately 714,000 of the 800,000 Palestinians in this area lost their land, homes, and property. At least 418 villages were depopulated and demolished (PASSIA, 1997).


One major consequence of the 1948 War was that a whole segment of the rural highland of central Palestine (which became known as the West Bank) became isolated from its cultivable land, coastal markets, and metropolitan centers as the State of Israel was founded on the fertile coastal plains. The population became landlocked. Those areas of Palestine that were not incorporated into the State of Israel were incorporated into the neighboring countries. Jordan took over control of the West Bank and Egypt administered the Gaza Strip.


Beginning on June 5, 1967, the Six Days War allowed the Israeli army to occupy the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights. A new wave of more than 350,000 Palestinian refugees were forced to leave the area, and many of the Palestinian villages close to Jerusalem were destroyed.


In 1967, Israel expanded the borders of East Jerusalem from 6.5 to over 70 km² to include vacant lands from many West Bank villages, while excluding populated areas. Later, in 1980, Israel formally annexed the extended East Jerusalem as part of Israel, and placed the Palestinian part of the city, including the Old City, under the legal jurisdiction of Israel and the Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem.


There are now more than 250 Israeli colonies and sites built in the West Bank, including Palestinian East Jerusalem. Despite international pressure against the Israeli colonizing campaigns, which are in direct violation of international laws, Israel is continuing with its colony expansion policy.


Tension between the Israeli occupation army and the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip grew and finally erupted in December of 1987. The "Intifada" was an unplanned popular uprising, which came from inside Palestinian society, and acted to change the political situation. In 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) declared the establishment of a Palestinian State in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. At the same time, the PLO officially accepted the concept of a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem and the right of Israel to exist.


The major turning point in the Arab/Israeli conflict occurred on 29 October 1991 with the start of the Madrid Peace Conference. For the first time, the Palestinian Territories were invited to a meeting addressing the Middle East conflict. Although it was not on an equal basis, it was a start. This conference provided the legitimacy and the framework for future rounds of peace negotiations and agreements. The direct outcome of the Madrid Conference was the birth of two separate negotiating tracks: the bilateral and multilateral talks. Soon after, separate bilateral negotiations were initiated between Israel from one side and the Palestinians, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria on the other. Multilateral talks on key regional issues have been frequently held as well. Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the interim period started in Washington, D.C. The composition of the Palestinian negotiating team was restricted at this time to members who were residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


The lack of progress in the bilateral negotiations led to secret meetings arranged and hosted by the Norwegians. These meetings led to the adoption of a two-stage solution. The first stage was an interim period of five years during which Palestinians would be permitted limited autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The critical issues of water allocation control over resources, East Jerusalem refugees, and the Israeli settlements were to be negotiated during the permanent status negotiations, which were scheduled to start on May 1, 1996. The behind-the-scenes negotiations, which took place in Oslo, Norway, achieved a major breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli relations, and brought the PLO and Israel to sign the "Declaration of Principles" (DOP) in September, 1993.


The DOP contained mutually agreed upon general principles for the interim period. It requested Israel to turn its authority over civil issues in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. During the interim period, Israel would continue to control security of borders and Israeli colonists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In order to elaborate on the practical application of the DOP, the "Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area", was signed on May 1994. That agreement, which later became known as Oslo I, resulted in the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from approximately 78% of the Gaza Strip and 6,130 hectares in the Jericho area. The 22% of the Gaza Strip which remained under Israeli control included "yellow areas," Israeli colonies, and an Israeli security zone.


The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was initiated in Washington, D.C. on September 28, 1995, and is commonly known as "Oslo II." Oslo II set out a policy for election of the Palestinian Council and defined its authority, established Palestinian self-government in the West Bank, and set a schedule for redeployment of the Israeli army from populated Palestinian areas. The agreement also focused on security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. As of today, Israel has not fulfilled a large segment of the Oslo II Agreement.


The Interim agreements have divided the lands of the West Bank into three classifications: areas A, B, and C. The Israeli military withdrew from lands classified as area A, and complete autonomy over administrative and security issues was assumed by the Palestinian Authority. Area A, according to the Oslo II agreement, covered the main cities of the West Bank, except for Hebron which had a special agreement. The city of Hebron was divided into areas of different control called H1 and H2. Area H1 is defined as area A and area H2, which houses 400 colonists, remains under Israeli control.


In areas B, the Palestinians have full control over civil affairs while Israel continues to have overriding responsibility for security. These areas comprise most of the Palestinian towns and villages. Areas C, covering almost 74.3% of the West Bank, are under Israeli control. Areas C covers the area, which falls outside areas A and B. In this area, the Palestinian Authority provides civil services; however, Israel retains full control over land, security, people, and natural resources. The majority of Palestinian agricultural land lies in these areas.


In the summer of 1996, there was a change of government in Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud party leader, rose to power. His agenda concerning the occupied territories diverged from that of his predecessors and the peace process plunged into a series of crises. Not only that but there was also an upsurge in the colonizing activities to the extent that Israeli officials publicly called upon the colonists to grab as many hilltops as they can. That land grab policy resulted in the establishment of over 40 outposts during the three years that Likud held power.


Furthermore, Netanyahu was reluctant to honor the agreements signed by the previous government putting the peace talks into a stalemate. Consequently, on October 23, 1998 the Wye River Memorandum was signed to "facilitate implementation" the Interim agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. The memorandum stipulated further redeployments that would give the Palestinians control over about 40% of the West Bank (Table 1). The redeployments were to be conducted in three stages and it was projected that after completion of the third stage, area A would be approximately 18.2% of the West Bank, area B would be 21.8%, and the remaining areas would continue to be area C (Wye River Memorandum, 1998). The first stage was put into effect on November 20, 1998, two weeks after the agreed timeline and the following two stages were stalled. On December 15, 1998, the Israeli government announced its decision to stop further redeployment, and froze the implementation of the Wye agreement indefinitely.


Table 1: The redeployments as mentioned in the Wye River Memorandum.
 

Total Area A

Total Area B

Total Area C

Stage I

10.1%

18.9%

71.0%

Stage II (not implemented)

10.1%

23.9%

66.0%

Stage II (not implemented)

18.2%

21.8%

60.0%

Source: adapted from The Wye River Memorandum, October 23, 1998.

 

Since the Wye River Memo encountered obstacles in implementation, it needed a new agreement in order to see it through. So on the 4th of September 1999, the Sharm El-Sheikh Memorandum was signed. In general, this memo reiterated each party's commitment to uphold its previous obligations yet with a bit of detailing on certain issues. The Permanent Status talks were to resume in an accelerated manner and a deadline was set (September 2000) for their conclusion. The memo also contained clauses detailing the release of prisoners, the operation of the Gaza Port, the Safe Passage Route, and modifications in the stages of redeployment. The first and second stages were implemented (albeit after delays) while the third stage, which was scheduled for the 20th of January 2000, has not been implemented (Table 2)

 

Total Area A

Total Area B

Total Area C

Stage I

10.1%

25.9%

64.0%

Stage II (not implemented)

12.1%

26.9%

61.0%

Stage II (not implemented)

18.2%

21.8%

60.0%

Source: adapted from The Sharm El-SheikhMemorandum, September 4, 1999.


The final status negotiations, which were supposed to commence in May 1996 and end by 1999, were officially started in early September 1999. In the meantime, the Israeli government has not stopped its unilateral practices in the West Bank and Gaza strip by which it created de facto realities on the ground. These de facto realities are clearly prejudicing the outcome of negotiations on the final status of the Occupied Territories to Israel's favor. Such activities are in total violation of United Nations' resolutions, particularly 298 and 242, as well as standing Palestinian-Israeli agreements.

Prepared by The Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ)