31 August 2007 – Almost 40 per cent of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure, which limits Palestinians’ ability to move freely and fragments their communities from each other, according to a new report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The analysis, covering the month of July, finds that more than 38 per cent of the West Bank consists of Israeli settlements, outposts, military bases, closed military areas, Israeli-declared nature reserves and related infrastructure that is either closed to Palestinians or tightly restricted.
The settlements on the West Bank are linked to each other and to Israel by an extensive road network, which Palestinians are largely banned from using or have limited access to.
The West Bank is now dissected into dozens of enclaves by the settlements and the related infrastructure, separating Palestinians from each other and negatively affecting the social and economic life of most Palestinians.
OCHA, which said the findings are based on detailed fieldwork and spatial analysis derived from satellite imagery, warned that the socio-economic conditions inside the West Bank are likely to worsen if current trends continue.
“Freedom of movement for Palestinians is crucial to improving humanitarian conditions and reviving socio-economic life,” the introduction to the analysis stated, adding that Palestinians have to compete with the settlers for often scarce resources such as land and water.
It also noted that the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank keeps growing steadily – by about 5.5 per cent each year – despite the transfer of Israeli civilians into the occupied Palestinian territory being illegal under international law. This rate of increase is three times greater than that of Israel itself.
As of this year, some 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and 2.4 million Palestinians. If current trends continue, the number of settlers will double in 12 years, while the number of Palestinians, increasing at an annual rate of 2.5 per cent, will double within less than 30 years.
“The problem is obvious: the West Bank’s resources are finite,” the analysis concluded. “As both settler and Palestinian populations expand, it is inevitable that the pressure on natural resources – namely land and water – will increase. It is equally inevitable, based on trends of the last 40 years, that the growth of settlements, roads and other infrastructure will come at the expense of Palestinian development and freedom of movement around the West Bank.”
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