Palestinian territories as a geopolitical phenomenon. For more on their geography, demographics and general history, see Palestine, West Bank and Gaza Strip.}}


Map of the West Bank.


Map of the Gaza Strip.

West Bank & Gaza Map 2007 (Settlements)

Map showing the West Bank and Gaza Strip in relation to central Israel (situation of 2007)

The Palestinian territories are composed of two discontiguous regions:

  • The West Bank (5,640 km2 of land and 220 km2 water, the northwest quarter of the Dead Sea)
  • The Gaza Strip (360 km2 )[1]

The territories, which were originally contained within the British Mandate of Palestine, were captured and occupied by Jordan and by Egypt in the late 1940s, and captured and occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. "Palestinian territories" is one of a number of designations for these areas. In 1980 Israel annexed East Jerusalem from the West Bank, but United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 declared this null and void and required that it be rescinded forthwith, claiming that it was a violation of international law.

Following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, portions of the territories have been governed in varying degrees by the Palestinian Authority. Israel does not consider East Jerusalem nor the former Israeli–Jordanian no man's land (the former annexed in 1980 and the latter in 1967) to be parts of the West Bank. Israel claims that both fall under full Israeli law and jurisdiction as opposed to the approximately 58% of the Israeli-defined West Bank that is ruled by the Israeli Judea and Samaria Civil Administration. This claim has not been recognized by any other country, based on unilateral annexation of territory being prohibited by customary and conventional international law.[2]


There are differences of opinion as to what the Palestinian territories should be called.

The United Nations, the International Court of Justice, the European Union, International Committee of the Red Cross and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland all refer to the "Occupied Palestinian Territories".[3][4][5] Journalists also use the description to indicate lands outside the Green Line. The term is often used interchangeably with the term occupied territories, although this term is also applied to the Golan Heights, which is internationally recognized as part of Syria and not claimed by the Palestinians. The confusion stems from the fact that all these territories were captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and are treated by the UN as territory occupied by Israel.

Other terms used to describe these areas collectively include "the disputed territories", "Israeli-occupied territories", and "the occupied territories". Further terms include "Yesha" (Judea-Samaria-Gaza), Yosh (Judea and Samaria), the Katif Strip (Gaza Strip), "liberated territories", "administered territories", "territories of undetermined permanent status", "1967 territories", and simply "the territories".

Many Arab and Islamic leaders,[who?] including some Palestinians,[who?] use the designation "Palestine" and "occupied Palestine", to imply a Palestinian political or religious claim to sovereignty over the whole of the former territory of the British Mandate west of the Jordan River, including all of Israel.[6] Many[who?] of them view the land of Palestine as an Islamic Waqf (trust) for future Muslim generations. A parallel exists in the aspirations of some Zionists[who?] and Jewish religious leaders[who?] to establish Jewish sovereignty over all of Greater Israel in trust for the Jewish people.[7][8]

Many Israelis[who?] object to the term "occupied Palestinian territories", and similar descriptions, because they maintain that such designations disregard legitimate Israeli claims to parts of the West Bank and Gaza, or prejudice negotiations involving possible border changes, arguing that the armistice line which was agreed to following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War was not intended to be a permanent border. Israeli right-wing politician Shmuel Katz, in a preliminary brief, rejected the rulings of the International Court of Justice and the resolutions of the UN Security Council, asserting that the standard term in international law, "occupied Palestinian lands", is "the common language of Arab anti-Israel propaganda, a part of the Arabs' fictional history, which it has succeeded in disseminating throughout the whole wide world". Katz further claimed that "Impartial groups should not be blind to the fact that there are two sides to the dispute in Palestine, and that Israel rejects absolutely the notion that it is illegally holding 'Palestinian lands'."[9] The arguments were later analysed and dismissed by the International Court of Justice. Similarly, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has written: "It would be far more accurate to describe the West Bank and Gaza Strip as "disputed territories" to which both Israelis and Palestinians have claims."[10]


The Palestinian territories consist of two (or perhaps three) distinct areas — the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Israel regards East Jerusalem not to be a part of the West Bank, but regards it is as part of a unified Jerusalem, which is Israel's capital. The eastern limit of the West Bank is the border with Jordan. The Israel-Jordan peace treaty defined that border as the international border, and Jordan renounced all claims to territory west of it. The border segment between Jordan and the West Bank was left undefined pending a definitive agreement on the status of the territory [3].

The southern limit of the Gaza Strip is the border with Egypt. Egypt renounced all claims to land north of the international border, including the Gaza Strip, in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. The Palestinians were not parties to either agreement.

In any event, the natural geographic boundaries for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, respectively.

It is now generally accepted, at least as a basis for negotiation between the sides, that the boundaries between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the State of Israel are what has historically been referred to as the Green Line. The Green Line represents the armistice lines under the 1949 Armistice Agreements, which brought an end to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and which were expressly declared in the Agreements to be armistice lines and not international borders.

Between the Armistice of 1949 and the Six-Day War of 1967, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were occupied and annexed by Jordan and the Gaza Strip was occupied (but not annexed) by Egypt. The term "Palestinian" began to be applied exclusively to the Arab population of these areas only after Israel's victory in the 1967 War, and consequently the terms "Palestinian territories" and "occupied Palestinian territories" also gained wide usage. Until the start of serious negotiations for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issues (the Peace Process), the Palestinians had refrained from defining the boundaries of what they called "the occupied territories", and which some even called "occupied Palestine", which implied a potential Palestinian claim to the whole of Israel. It was in the context of the negotiations that the term "1967 borders" came to be used, as a basis for negotiation. "The 1967 borders" are in fact the 1949 armistice lines (which is the Green Line), which all Arab countries and Palestinians at the time insisted were to be temporary and with no other legal status. The Palestinian negotiators claim a return to those lines as the boundary for a future Palestinian state. The Palestinians also claim that East Jerusalem is a part of the occupied West Bank within the boundaries of the "1967 borders".

Political status

The political status of the territories has been the subject of negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and of numerous statements and resolutions by the United Nations. (See List of United Nations resolutions concerning Israel.) Since 1994, the autonomous Palestinian National Authority has exercised various degrees of control in large parts of the territories, as a result of the Declaration of Principles contained in the Oslo Accords. The United States government recognizes the West Bank and Gaza as a country. It considers the West Bank and Gaza as a single entity for political, economic, legal and other purposes.[11] The State Department and other US government agencies, such as USAID West Bank and Gaza,[12] have been tasked with projects in the areas of democracy, governance, resources, and infrastructure. Part of the USAID mission is to provide flexible and discrete support for implementation of the Quartet Road Map.[13] The Road Map is a internationally backed plan which calls for the progressive development of a viable Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza. Participating states provide assistance through direct contributions or through the Palestinian State account established by the World Bank.[14]

After Hamas won a majority of seats in elections for the Palestinian Parliament, the United States and Israel instituted an economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.[15][16] When that failed to topple the new government, a covert operation was launched to eliminate Hamas by force.[17][18][19] The covert initiative was exposed when confidential State Department documents were accidentally leaked by the US envoy. The talking points delivered to the Fatah leadership said:
Hamas should be given a clear choice, with a clear deadline: they either accept a new government that meets the Quartet principles, or they reject it. The consequences of Hamas’ decision should also be clear: If Hamas does not agree within the prescribed time, you should make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government explicitly committed to that platform.[20]

Since the Battle of Gaza (2007), the administration of the territories has been contested by two rival factions of the Palestinian National Authority, with Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip and Fatah continuing to administer the West Bank. Both groups claim legitimacy over leadership of the Palestinian territories. Most countries with an interest in the issues, including most of the Arab countries, recognize the administration of Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate government over both Palestinian territories.

During Operation Cast Lead the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1860 (2009) which said that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967 that will be a part of the Palestinian state.[21]

Background on the disposition of Arab Palestine

The termination of the Palestine Mandate gave the Arabs of Palestine the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination. That meant they could determine their own political status and form or dissolve unions among themselves or with other states.

At its final session the League of Nations recognized the independence of Transjordan. In 1946 the US government received a long detailed legal argument from representatives of the Jewish Agency, Rabbis Wise and Silver, seeking the postponement of any international determination of status regarding the Transjordan area until the future status of Palestine as a whole was determined.[22]

The UNSCOP report subsequently explained that the proposed Arab state would not be economically viable. The report indicated that the Arab state would be forced to call for financial assistance "from international institutions in the way of loans for expansion of education, public health and other vital social services of a non-self-supporting nature." A technical note from the Secretariat explained that without some redistribution of customs from the Jewish state, Arab Palestine would not be economically viable. The Committee was satisfied that the proposed Jewish State and the City of Jerusalem would be viable.[23]

Jewish leaders including Nahum Goldmann, Rabbi Abba Silver, Moshe Shertok, and David Ben Gurion held discussions with US officials in which they suggested a final settlement involving a union between Arab Palestine and Transjordan.[24] In December 1948 the Secretary of State authorized the US Consul in Amman to advise King Abdullah and the officials of Transjordan that the US accepted the principles contained in the resolutions of the Jericho Conference, and that the US viewed incorporation with Transjordan as the logical disposition of Arab Palestine.[25] The United States subsequently extended de jure recognition to the Government of Transjordan and the Government of Israel on the same day, January 31, 1949.[26] The 1950 State Department Country Report on Jordan said that King Abdullah had taken successive steps to incorporate the area of Central Palestine into Jordan and described the Jordanian Parliament resolution concerning the union of Central Palestine with Jordan. The report said the US had privately advised the British and French Foreign Ministers that it had approved the action, and that "it represented a logical development of the situation which took place as a result of a free expression of the will of the people."[27] The major problems of concern to the United States were the establishment of peaceful and friendly relations between Israel and Jordan and the successful absorption into the polity and economy of Jordan of Arab Palestine, its inhabitants, and the-bulk of the refugees located there.[28]

In 1978 the U.S. State Department published a memorandum of conversation held on June 5, 1950 between Mr. Stuart W. Rockwell of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs and Abdel Monem Rifai, a Counselor of the Jordan Legation: Mr. Rifai asked when the United States was going to recognize the union of Arab Palestine and Jordan. Mr. Rockwell explained the Department's position, stating that it was not the custom of the United States to issue formal statements of recognition every time a foreign country changed its territorial area. The union of Arab Palestine and Jordan had been brought about as a result of the will of the people and the US accepted the fact that Jordanian sovereignty had been extended to the new area. Mr. Rifai said he had not realized this and that he was very pleased to learn that the US did in fact recognize the union.[29]

The US advised the Arab states that the US attitude regarding Israel had been clearly stated in the UN by Dr. Jessup on November 20, 1949. He said that the US supported Israeli claims to the boundaries set forth in the UN General Assembly resolution. However, the US believed that if Israel sought to retain additional territory in Palestine it should give the Arabs other territory as compensation.[30] The Israelis agreed that the boundaries were negotiable, but did not agree to the principle of compensation as a precondition. Mr. Eban stressed that it was undesirable to undermine what had already been accomplished by the armistice agreements, and maintained that Israel held no territory wrongfully, since her occupation of the areas had been sanctioned by the armistice agreements, as had the occupation of the territory in Palestine held by the Arab states.[31]

Arab Palestine and the Crisis of 1967

In November 1966 the Israeli Defense Forces conducted a massive raid into Jordan and carried out operations against the West Bank village of Samu in response to several attacks. President Johnson's personal assistant, R. W. Komer, sent word to Prime Minister Eshkol 'that Israel was "going too far" in striking Jordan and had better lay off'. He told Israeli Ambassador Harmon the Israelis had put in jeopardy the US policy of promoting Arab-Israel stability by subsidizing an independent Jordan. President Johnson's personal assistant, Walt Rostow, agreed and added that the US had spent $500 million to shore up Jordan as a stabilizing factor on Israel's longest border.[32]

On June 9, 1967 Foreign Minister Eban assured US Ambassador Goldberg that Israel was not seeking territorial aggrandizement and had no "colonial" aspirations.[33] Secretary Rusk stressed to the Government of Israel that no settlement with Jordan would be accepted by the world community unless it gave Jordan some special position in the Old City of Jerusalem. The US also assumed Jordan would receive the bulk of the West Bank as that was regarded as Jordanian territory.[34]

On November 3, 1967 US Ambassador Goldberg, accompanied by Mr. Sisco and Mr. Pedersen, called on King Hussein of Jordan. Goldberg said the US was committed to the principle of political independence and territorial integrity and was ready to reaffirm it bilaterally and publicly in the Security Council resolution. The US believes in territorial integrity, withdrawal, and recognition of secure boundaries. Goldberg said the Principle of territorial integrity has two important sub-principles, there must be a withdrawal to recognized and secure frontiers for all countries, not necessarily the old armistice lines, and there must be mutuality in adjustments.[35]

Walt Rostow advised President Johnson, that Secretary Rusk had explained to Mr Eban that US support for secure permanent frontiers doesn't mean we support territorial changes.[36] The record of a meeting between Under Secretary of State Eugene Rostow and Israeli Ambassador Harmon stated that Rostow made clear the US view that there should be movement from General Armistice Agreements to conditions of peace and that this would involve some adjustments of Armistice lines as foreseen in the Armistice Agreements. Rostow told Harmon that he had already stressed to Foreign Minister Eban that the US expected the thrust of the settlement would be toward security and demilitarization arrangements rather than toward major changes in the Armistice lines. Harmon said the Israeli position was that Jerusalem should be an open city under unified administration but that the Jordanian interest in Jerusalem could be met through arrangements including "sovereignty". Rostow said the US government assumed (and Harman confirmed) that despite public statements to the contrary, the Government of Israel position on Jerusalem was that which Eban, Harman, and Evron had given several times, that Jerusalem was negotiable.[37]

Ambassador Goldberg briefed King Hussein on US assurances regarding territorial integrity. Goldberg said the US did not view Jordan as a country that consisted only of the East Bank, and that the US was prepared to support a return of the West Bank to Jordan with minor boundary rectifications. The US would use its influence to obtain compensation to Jordan for any territory it would be required to give up. Finally, although as a matter of policy the US did not agree with Jordan's position on Jerusalem, nor with the Israeli position on Jerusalem, the US was prepared to use its influence to obtain for Jordan a role in Jerusalem.[38] Secretary Rusk advised President Johnson that he confirmed Golberg's pledge regarding territorial integrity to King Hussein.[39]

During a subsequent meeting between President Johnson, King Hussein, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Hussein said the phraseology of the resolution calling for withdrawal from occupied territories could be interpreted to mean that the Egyptians should withdraw from Gaza and the Jordanians should withdraw from the West Bank. He said this possibility was evident from a speech given by Prime Minister Eshkol in which it had been claimed that both Gaza and the West Bank had been "occupied territory". The President agreed, and promised he would talk to Ambassador Goldberg about inserting Israel in that clause. Ambassador Goldberg told King Hussein that after taking into account legitimate Arab concerns and suggestions, the US would be willing to add the word "Israeli" before "Armed Forces" in first operative paragraph.[40]

In a speech delivered on September 1, 1982 President Reagan called for a settlement freeze and continued to support full Palestinian autonomy in political union with Jordan. He also said that "It is the United States' position that - in return for peace - the withdrawal provision of Resolution 242 applies to all fronts, including the West Bank and Gaza."[41]

After the events of Black September in Jordan, the rift between the Palestinian leadership and the Kingdom of Jordan continued to widen. The Arab League affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and called on all the Arab states, including Jordan, to undertake to defend Palestinian national unity and not to interfere in internal Palestinian affairs. The Arab League also 'affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent national authority under the command of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in any Palestinian territory that is liberated.' King Ḥussein dissolved the Jordanian parliament. Half of its members had been West Bank representatives. He renounced Jordanian claims to the West Bank, and allowed the PLO to assume responsibility as the Provisional Government of Palestine. The Kingdom of Jordan, Egypt, and Syria no longer act as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, or their territory.[42]


Template:History of the Levant

In 1922 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that ruled Palestine for four centuries (1517–1917), the British Mandate for Palestine was established. Large-scale Jewish immigration from abroad, mainly from Eastern Europe took place during the British Mandate, though Jewish immigration started during the Ottoman period.[43] The future of Palestine was hotly disputed between Arabs and Jews. In 1947, the total Jewish ownership of land in Palestine was 1,850,000 dunams or 1,850 square kilometers, which is 7.04% of the total land of Palestine.[4] Public property or "crown lands", the bulk of which was in the Negev, belonging to the government of Palestine may have made up as much as 70% of the total land; with the Arabs, Christians and others owning the rest.[44]

The 1947 United Nations Partition Plan proposed a division of the mandated territory between an Arab and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem and the surrounding area to be a corpus separatum under a special international regime. The regions allotted to the proposed Arab state included what would become the Gaza Strip and almost all of what would become the West Bank, as well as other areas.

The Partition Plan was passed by the UN General Assembly on November 1947 and was immediately accepted by the Jewish leadership, only to be rejected by that of the Arab population. Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, one day before the expiration of the British Mandate for Palestine. US President Harry Truman recognized the State of Israel de facto the following day. (The United States recognized it de jure on January 31, 1949.[45]) The Arab countries responded by declaring war on the newly formed State of Israel, first in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which ended in Israel's victory.

After the war, Israel controlled many of the areas designated for the Arab state, and the negotiated agreements established Armistice Demarcation Lines (ADLs), which did not have the status of recognized international borders.

Thus the areas held by Jordanian and Iraqi forces (with minor adjustments) came under Jordanian control, and became known as the West Bank (of the Jordan River, by contrast with the East Bank, or Jordan proper); the area held by Egyptian forces, along the Mediterranean coast in the vicinity of the city of Gaza and south to the international border, remained under Egyptian control and became known as the Gaza Strip.

For nineteen years following the 1949 Armistice Agreements until the 1967 Six Day War, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and no Arab state was created. In 1950, Jordan annexed the territories it occupied. Only the United Kingdom formally recognized the annexation of the West Bank, de facto in the case of East Jerusalem.[46]

Article 24 of the Palestinian National Charter of 1964[47] stated: "This Organization does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or in the Himmah Area."

Israel captured both territories in the 1967 Six-Day War; since then they have been under Israeli control. Immediately after the war, on June 19, 1967, the Israeli government offered to return the Golan Heights to Syria, the Sinai to Egypt and most of the West Bank to Jordan in exchange for peace. At the Khartoum Summit in September, the Arab parties responded to this overture by declaring "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel."[48]

UN Security Council Resolution 242 introduced the "Land for Peace" formula for normalizing relations between Israel and its neighbors. This formula was used when Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1979 in exchange for a peace treaty. While that treaty mentioned a "linkage" between Israeli-Egyptian peace and Palestinian autonomy, the formerly Egyptian-occupied territory in Gaza was excluded from the agreement, and remained under Israeli control.

The Oslo Accords of the early 1990s between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority. This was an interim organization created to administer a limited form of Palestinian self-governance in the territories for a period of five years during which final-status negotiations would take place. The Palestinian Authority carried civil responsibility in some rural areas, as well as security responsibility in the major cities of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Although the five-year interim period expired in 1999, the final status agreement has yet to be concluded despite attempts such as the 2000 Camp David Summit, the Taba summit, and the unofficial Geneva Accords.

In 2005, Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip, ceding full effective internal control of the territory to the Palestinian Authority.

Since the Battle of Gaza (2007) the two separate territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, are divided into a Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip and a Fatah civil leadership in the autonomous areas of the West Bank. Each sees itself as the administrator of all Palestinian territories and does not acknowledge the other one as the official government of the territories. The Palestinian territories have therefore de facto split into two entities.

Legal status

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