Maps: The occupation of the West Bank

by @EhabZ July 4, 2014 10:04AM ET

Varying layers of Israeli control show stark reality of Palestinian life under occupation

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Click top-right of map to expand

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 30 made clear his plan for Israeli forces to remain in the West Bank even if a peace deal is reached, a sign that the country’s 47-year occupation of Palestinian territory is likely to continue indefinitely.

"One must understand that in any future arrangement with the Palestinians, Israel must maintain security control of the area up to the Jordan River for a very long time," Netanyahu said during a speech at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies.

His rhetoric appears to challenge his country’s two-decade commitment to an Oslo peace process in which Israel would hand over the great majority of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

Prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords, in which the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel officially began negotiating under a two-state for two peoples paradigm, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were under full Israeli Civil Administration control. The office was tasked with the handling of bureaucratic responsibilities of the occupied territories while the Israeli military was responsible for security.

With the onset of the Oslo process, however, limited autonomy and self-rule was given to the Palestinians in the West Bank (though not in Gaza). The West Bank was divided into the following three administrative divisions, with civil administrative control of some areas transferred to the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA) while Israel maintained civil control over the majority of the territory. Under the terms of the Oslo process, full Palestinian governance was to have been achieved by 1999. But 15 years later, any Israeli transference of sovereignty remains elusive, especially with the presence in the West Bank of more than 300,000 Israeli settlers, more than twice the amount there during the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Area A

Comprising 18 percent of the West Bank, Area A is under PA civil control and security authority. Although it is comprised entirely of Palestinian cities – including Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and some towns and villages that do not border Israeli settlements – they are separated by areas controlled by Israel, including checkpoints, settlements and military outposts.

An exception is found in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. While it lie in Area A, less than 1,000 Israeli settlers are living among hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents, a state of affairs which prompted Israel to divide the city into two zones in the 1990s: H1, 80 percent of the entire city which is administered by the PA; and H2, 20 percent of the city which is controlled by Israel.

Palestinians from Area A cannot travel to other areas within the West Bank — even other parts of Area A — without crossing Israeli checkpoints. Despite Palestinian civil and security governance, Israel still maintains a de facto veto of final authority, sometimes raiding homes and businesses or detaining and arresting Palestinians.

Area B

Comprising about 22 percent of the West Bank, Area B is under Palestinian civil administration while Israel retains exclusive security control with limited cooperation from the Palestinian police. Area B includes more than 400 villages and farmland. Despite PA civil control, such areas are often threatened by the expansion of Israeli settlements into Palestinian land. 

Area C

Under full Israeli civil administration and security control, Area C is the largest division in the West Bank, comprising 60 percent of the territory. The PA only has responsibility for providing education and medical services to the 150,000 Palestinians living there. With the exception of Hebron, all Israeli settlements are in Area C, where Israel has full authority over building permissions and zoning laws. Area C contains most of the West Bank's natural resources and open areas. More than 70 percent of the Palestinian villages in Area C are not connected to the water network while Israeli settlements are, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Israel's Civil Administration has planned for Palestinian development in less than 1 percent of Area C, and 99 percent of the area is off limits or heavily restricted for Palestinian construction.

East Jerusalem

Map of East Jerusalem, 2007. Click top-right of map to expand

Like the West Bank, East Jerusalem has been occupied by Israel since 1967 — which is illegal under international law. But Israel’s method of control over the territory differs. In 1980, Israel unilaterally declared Jerusalem a unified city, effectively consolidating power over Palestinian East Jerusalem, which would be the future capital of an independent Palestine as envisioned under the two-state Oslo process.

Unlike Palestinian residents of West Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are given a unique identification card, which — unlike their Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank – allows them to travel throughout Israel and the West Bank. However, they are not granted an Israeli passport nor can they vote in Israeli elections.

Israel maintains full civil control in East Jerusalem, where they provide municipal services, health insurance and building permits to the Palestinian residents. Under its control over East Jerusalem, Israel has increased the presence of settlers around Palestinian towns and left other physical barriers separating those towns from the West Bank. According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, about 40 percent of the residents in annexed East Jerusalem are Jews living in settlements or previously-owned Palestinian homes.