The Interim Agreements between Israel and the PLO, divided the West Bank into three categories: Area A, currently comprising about 18% of the land in the West Bank, which includes all the Palestinian cities and most of the Palestinian population of the West Bank; the Palestinian Authority (PA) is endowed with most governmental powers this area. Area B, comprises approximately 22% of the West Bank and encompasses large rural areas; Israel retained security control of the area and transferred control of civil matters to the PA. Area C covers 60% of the West Bank (about 330,000 hectares); Israel has retained almost complete control of this area, including security matters and all land-related civil matters, including land allocation, planning and construction, and infrastructure. The PA is responsible for providing education and medical services to the Palestinian population in Area C. However, construction and maintenance of the infrastructure necessary for these services remains in Israel’s hands. Civil matters remained under Israeli control in Area C and are the responsibility of the Civil Administration.
The division into areas was to have been temporary and meant to enable an incremental transfer of authority to the Palestinian Authority. It was not designed to address the needs of long-term demographic growth. Yet this “temporary” arrangement has remained in force for nearly twenty years. Areas A and B were defined by drawing lines around Palestinian population centers at the time the Interim Agreement was signed. Some 2.4 million Palestinian residents live in these areas, which are subdivided into 165 separate units of land that have no territorial contiguity.
All areas surrounding Areas A and B were defined as Area C, which does have territorial contiguity. Area C encompasses nearly all of the land in the eastern part of the West Bank, from the eastern slopes of the mountains of Samaria to the Jordan River, as well as broad swathes of land in the west and center of the West Bank. Area C includes all 125 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, as well as the vast tracts of land Israel defined as being the jurisdictions of the local and regional councils of the settlements. These areas cover some 210,000 hectares – approximately 63% of Area C – and include the majority of state land. Beginning in the mid-1990s, approximately 100 illegal settlement outposts – established without formal permission from state authorities, but with their encouragement and assistance – were also established in Area C. At the end of 2011, there were at least 325,000 settlers living in settlements and outposts.
The precise number of Palestinians in Area C is unknown. Israeli NGO Bimkom estimates the population at 200,000, whereas according to an extensive survey by OCHA [UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] there are 300,000 Palestinian residents in Area C. Both Bimkom and OCHA say that approximately 60,000 Palestinians live in at least 180 villages and communities that lie entirely within Area C. The rest reside in approximately 290 villages and towns. Only some of the built-up area of these communities is located in Area C, while the remainder is in Areas A or B. Of the residents of communities located entirely within Area C, over 20,000 live in Bedouin or other shepherding communities, in tents, sheet-metal shacks or caves. They have only very limited access to services and are not hooked up to water, sanitation or electricity infrastructures. According to UN food aid agencies, these communities face a high degree of food insecurity – 34% after receiving aid – as compared with 24% among the Palestinian population of Area C as a whole, and 17% in Areas A and B.
Israel strictly limits Palestinian settlement, construction and development in Area C, while ignoring the needs of the Palestinian population. This policy means Palestinian residents must subsist in very rudimentary living conditions. They are denied any legal avenue to build homes or develop their communities, so they face the constant fear that their homes might be demolished, and that they be expelled and lose their livelihood. The boundaries outlined for Areas A and B impose an artificial scarcity of land for some of the communities in these areas. In addition to bringing about land ownership issues, this situation contributes to difficulty in obtaining lots for construction, steep price hikes for the few available plots, dearth of open areas, and a total lack of suitable sites for infrastructure and industrial zones. If, for want of an alternative, residents of these areas build homes without permits on nearby land – owned by them but classified “Area C” – they live with the ever-present threat of demolition.
Area C has the bulk of future land reserves for the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank. These areas hold the opportunities for developing and expanding existing Palestinian communities. They are also meant to be used for the construction of infrastructure, such as waste treatment facilities or industrial zones, which cannot be situated near residential areas. In addition, they are necessary for the development of the West Bank economy, including mineral mining, use of water resources, agriculture, pastureland and tourism. Likewise, the maintenance of inter-community infrastructure, including roads, and water and electric grids, requires both passing through Area C and working there. Therefore, Israel’s policy in Area C has significant ramifications for the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, in excess of 2.6 million people.