Over 90% of the Palestinians in the West Bank live in villages and cities located in what the Oslo Accords define as Areas A and B, where civil powers, including of planning and construction were handed over to the Palestinian Authority. However, the lands comprising the majority of future land reserves for many of these communities are located in Area C, which accounts for 60% of the entire territory of the West Bank.
The boundaries of Areas A and B were drawn in such a way that they created a non-contiguous space of 165 separate “islands” entirely surrounded by Area C land, which is under full Israeli control. Of these islands, 103 include only some or all of the built-up area of a single village. In effect, this meant that the vast majority of the land reserves for the development and expansion of many Palestinian communities was in Area C.
Over the years that have passed since the division was made, the population of the West Bank has grown by more than 1 million people, from under 1.5 million residents in 1995 to about 2.7 million in 2013. According to the World Bank, municipal lands in Areas A and B – under Palestinian planning authority – have been almost completely exhausted, and the few private lands still available have become very expensive. In parts of these same communities designated as Area C, however, there are vast available tracts of land. However, a permit from the Civil Administration is required for any building or development there, and the Civil Administration refuses to give such permits, alleging that the area is outside the community’s master plan. In about 150 of the hundreds of villages for which the Civil Administration had drafted a master plan prior to the Oslo Accords and which today are situated in Areas A or B, part of the territory covered by their master plans is indeed in Area C, so that construction there is allowed. That said, the areas involved are frequently very small and insufficient for the residential needs of the growing population of these villages.
There are currently some 300 Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank part of whose built-up area is in Area C, and the rest of which is in Areas A or B. In 184 Palestinian communities at least one tenth of their built-up area is designated Area C, and in 46 of these communities, over 50% of the built-up area is in Area C. Residents who, for want of any other alternative, build their houses in Area C risk demolition even when the building is located only a few dozen meters from the other village buildings that are located in Areas A or B. Demolition will be carried out even if the residents were completely unaware of the fact that they were building in Area C, since the border between the areas is not marked physically on the ground. In some cases entire neighborhoods are under the threat of demolition. Given the housing shortage, the land still available in Areas A and B is often used for residential construction, even if it is more suited to other uses. Therefore, fertile arable land is converted to residential construction, while infertile land suitable for urban development is in Area C and consequently cannot be used for construction. This is one of the factors that impede local Palestinian authorities in erecting public structures such as medical clinics and schools, or initiating planning that would include open spaces for the benefit of the population inside the communities.
The lack of available land is particularly significant when it comes to infrastructure facilities. There are facilities such as waste removal sites, sewage treatment plants and polluting factories which cannot be erected inside communities and ought to be situated far from population centers. Due to the inadequate space allocated to Areas A and B, in some regions the sites appropriate for this type of infrastructure and factories are in Area C. In other cases, infrastructure was built before the West Bank was divided, and is now on land designated Area C. Also intercity infrastructure projects for the West Bank, such as roads, water systems and power grids, necessitate work in Area C. Despite this reality, permits from the Civil Administration for the erection or repair of infrastructure projects in Area C are often forthcoming only after a significant delay – sometimes as long as two or three years – and sometimes are completely denied. As a result, even when there is funding available from a donor or from the PA for development and infrastructure projects, the Palestinian authorities have a hard time getting them built, and some donors even steer clear of investing in projects in Area C.