The West Bank is a territory in the Middle East constituting the area west of the Jordan River annexed by Jordan at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The territory formed part of Jordan from 1948 through 1967, after which it was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. It is currently controlled partly by Israel and partly by the Palestinian Authority; together with the Gaza Strip it forms the Palestinian territories at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The status of East Jerusalem is controversial: it meets the above description of territory constituting the West Bank, but has been annexed by Israel, so Israel no longer considers it part of the West Bank; however, the annexation is not generally recognized. In either case, it is often treated as separate from the West Bank due to its importance; for example, the Oslo Peace Accords treat the status of East Jerusalem as a separate matter from the status of the other Palestinian territories.
Some people, especially those who support Israeli settlement in and annexation of the territory, prefer the term Judea and Samaria, and the name Cisjordan is also used for the region in some languages (e.g. French).
The West Bank is considered by the United Nations as occupied by Israel, though some Israelis and various other groups prefer to refer to it as "disputed" rather than "occupied" territory. The West Bank is inhabited by Arabs, Jews, and other ethnic groups (see Palestinians). The majority of Arabs living in the West Bank are refugees or their direct descendants, who fled Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (see Palestinian exodus).
Cities in the West Bank
The most densely populated part of the region is a mountainous spine, running north-south, where the cities of Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron are located. Jenin, in the extreme north of the West Bank is on the southern edge of the Jezreel Valley, Qalqilyah and Tulkarm are in the low foothills adjacent to the Israeli coastal plain, and Jericho is situated near the Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea. Maale Adumim (about 6 km east of Jerusalem) and Ariel (between Nablus and Ramallah) are the largest Jewish towns in the region. See also: List of cities in Palestinian Authority areas
Origin of name
The region did not have a separate existence until 1948-9, when it was defined by the ceasefire lines between the Israeli and Arab (mostly Jordanian) armies. The name "West Bank" was apparently first used by Jordanians at the time of their annexation of the region, and has become the most common name used in English. The name "Cisjordan" or "Cis-jordan" (literally "on this side of the Jordan") is the usual name in French, Spanish, and some other languages, the analogous "Transjordan" having historically been used to designate modern-day Jordan. In English, the name "Cisjordan" is also used to designate the entire region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, but such usage was extremely rare before the past few decades. The names Judea and Samaria, used by some Israelis, are biblical.
Israelis refer to the region either as a unit -- "The West Bank" (Hebrew: "ha-Gada ha-Ma'aravit" "הגדה המערבית") -- or as two units -- Judea (Hebrew: "Yehuda" "יהודה") and Samaria (Hebrew: "Shomron" "שומרון"), after the two biblical kingdoms (the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel -- the capital of which was, for a time, in the town of Samaria). The border between Judea and Samaria is a belt of territory immediately north of Jerusalem sometimes called the "land of Benjamin".
The Arab world and especially the Palestinians strongly object to the terms Judea and Samaria, the use of which they deem to reflect Israeli expansionist aims. Instead, they refer to the area as "the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River", emphasizing that the area is under Israeli military control and jurisdiction (see "occupied Palestinian territories").
The West Bank has been the object of negotiation, terrorism and war.
The future status of the West Bank, together with the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean shore, has long been disputed, though almost everyone agrees that the area is heading for statehood (see proposals for a Palestinian state).
The United Nations call the West Bank and Gaza Strip Israeli-occupied (see Occupied territories for discussion of what "occupied" means). The United States generally agrees with this formulation. Israel prefers the term disputed territories, claiming it comes closer to a neutral point of view; this viewpoint is not accepted by most other countries, which consider "occupied" to be the neutral term.
Generally, the Arab World considers the West Bank the rightful property of its Palestinian residents and regards the Israeli presence as an occupation force. Supporters of this view commonly refer to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as the "occupied territories". The vast majority of Palestinians also feel that the West Bank ought to be a part of their sovereign nation, and that the presence of Israeli military forces is a violation of that sovereignty (see Palestinian Authority).
Israel views the current situation as follows:
- Israel's eastern border was never defined by anyone.
- The disputed territories were not part of any state (Jordanian annexation was never recognized) since the Ottoman Empire days.
- According to the Camp David Accords (1978) with Egypt, the 1994 agreement with Jordan and the Oslo accords with the PLO the final status of the territories would be fixed only during the permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
There are unofficial Arab maps that show the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel (the territory bounded by Egypt, the Jordan River, Syria, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean Sea) as "Palestine". Some even have the Arab East Bank Palestine/Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan (80% Palestinian, comprising 3/4 of Mandatory Palestine) incorporated into those maps as well. Israeli maps often show all Israeli controlled territory as "Israel".
Israeli opinion is split into those who advocate, variously:
- Complete withdrawal from the West Bank in hopes of ending Arab attacks on Israel (sometimes called the "land for peace" position).
- Maintenance of a military presence in the West Bank to reduce Palestinian terrorism by deterrence or by armed intervention, while relinquishing some degree of political control.
- Annexation of the West Bank while considering the Palestinian population as (for instance) citizens of Jordan with Israeli residence permit as per the Elon Peace Plan.
- Annexation of the West Bank and assimilation of the Palestinian population to full-fledged Israeli citizens.
- Annexation of the West Bank and transfer of part or all of the Palestinian population.
Main article: History of the West Bank and Gaza Strip or History of Israel
A part of the pre-1948 Mandatory Palestine, the territories now known as West Bank were mostly part of the territory reserved by the 1947 Partition Plan (UN General Assembly Resolution 181) for an Arab state. According to the plan, the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding towns (including Bethlehem) would be an internationally adminsitered territory, whose future would be determined at a later date. While a Palestinian Arab state failed to materialize, the territory was captured by the neighboring kingdom of Jordan. This occupation was not recognized by the UN or by the international community.
The temporary line marking a cessation of hostilities that was drawn between Israel proper and the Transjordanian army on the West Bank, was determined by the cease-fire talks in 1949 and is often called the "Green Line". During the 1950s, there was significant Palestinian refugee infiltration and terrorism through the Green Line. In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured this territory, but the U.N. did not recognize it either. Palestinians claim that Resolution 242 applies to these territories. In 1988, Jordan withdrew all claims to it.
The 1993 Oslo accords declared the final status of the West Bank to be a subject to a forthcoming settlement between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. Following the accords, Israel withdrew its military rule from some parts of West Bank, which was then split into:
- Palestinian-controlled, Palestinian-administered land(Area A)
- Israeli-controlled, but Palestinian-administred land (Area B)
- Israeli-controlled, Israeli-adminstered land (Area C)
Areas B and C constitute the majority of the territory, made up out of the rural areas, while urban areas — where the majority of the Palestinian population resides — are mostly Area A.
See Israeli settlements for a discussion of the legal standing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Transport and communication
The West Bank has 4,500 km of roads, of which 2,700 km are paved. The Israelis have developed many highways to service their settlements. These highways are inaccessible to Palestinians. The West Bank also has three paved airports. There are no railways.
The Israeli company Bezeq and the Palestinian company PALTEL are responsible for communication services in the West Bank. The Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts from an AM station in Ramallah on 675 kHz; numerous local, private stations are reported to be in operation. Most Palestinian households have a radio, and many have a TV, but there are no figures available.
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