Trembling earth under economic peace
By Alon Cohen-Lifshitz
The West Bank is returning to center stage amid expectations that the new U.S. administration will do more to push the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians forward. The United States faces the old vision of two states living side by side and enjoying independence, security and prosperity. Unfortunately, this vision relies on false assumptions about the West Bank's development potential.
Israel defines around 1.6 million dunams (some 4 million acres) in the West Bank as state lands and does not allow the Palestinians to develop them. Hundreds of thousands of dunams in the West Bank have been declared "closed military zones" or "engaged" - they are off-limits to the Palestinians. Also, World Bank data suggest that 68 percent of all West Bank communities have agricultural lands that are not being used or are not accessible, for reasons including water shortages and the withholding of land by Israel. For example, more than 10 percent of cultivated agricultural land in the West Bank (which produces 8 percent of all Palestinian agricultural produce), is directly affected by the physical obstacles that separate the land from its owners.
Not only does Israeli land policy prevent Palestinian development, so does the planning policy for Area C, which is completely under Israeli control and constitutes about 60 percent of West Bank land. Full planning authority, including the issuing of building permits and blueprints, is in the hands of the Civil Administration, which furthers Israel's abusive policy in the territories. Thus, for example, the rate of building permits for Palestinians approved by the Civil Administration dropped from 97 percent in 1972 to about 5 percent in recent years. This is happening alongside land allotment and expedited development for settlement activity.
Of the 149 Palestinian communities whose built-up areas lie entirely in Area C, the Civil Administration has approved the blueprints of only 15 villages. In most cases these plans only delineate the villages' areas and do not meet residents' basic needs.
The institutionalized abuse does not end at withholding building permits for villagers in Area C, but extends to a very severe form of enforcement: the razing of around 240 structures annually, on average. With the chances of receiving a building permit minimal, many Palestinians in Area C are forced to build without a permit, despite the risk that their homes might be razed. Without legal solutions for expressing their right to a roof, their human rights are being violated as the Civil Administration carries out a systematic government policy.
There is a clear link between the absence of free access to land - a policy characterized by strict punishment and limited issuances of building permits - and a low degree of investment. In 2005 and 2006, private investment in the West Bank dropped 15 percent and stayed at around that level in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, the West Bank's per capita gross domestic product was 60 percent of the 1999 level.
When this is the development infrastructure allowed in the West Bank, where there is no economic future and human and land rights are being neglected, talk of an economic peace is a mockery, hiding the Israeli regime's institutional abuse of Palestinian civilians.
The writer is an architect with Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights.