West Bank

History

The West Bank was declared part of Jordanian territory after Israel and Jordan signed armistice agreements in 1949. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the area remained under Israeli occupation. Conflicts with Arab residents there grew in the late 1970s as Israeli Jewish settlers, encouraged by the Begin administration, began a series of large-scale housing developments. Although the Camp David accords (1978) incorporated plans for Arab self-rule in the West Bank, this goal remained elusive.

Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 1982 to destroy Palestinian armed bases exacerbated rioting and political turmoil in the West Bank. Israel responded with military curfews and increased Israeli troop presence. The development of the Intifada (Palestinian uprising), which began in the Gaza Strip in 1987, embroiled the West Bank in outbreaks of stone-throwing, protests, and violent attacks and led to Israeli reprisals, resulting in hundreds of Palestinian deaths, property damage, high unemployment, and reduced living standards. The 1991 Persian Gulf War created further economic hardship as Palestinian workers returned en masse from the war zone.

Rioting and clashes with Israeli troops continued into the 1990s. An accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), reached in 1993 after secret negotiations, led to the establishment of the Palestianian Authority and limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in mid-1994. Agreements providing for a transfer of control to Palestinians in the West Bank town of Jericho and the Gaza Strip, and then in the other West Bank cities and towns (except East Jerusalem), were finalized in 1994 and 1995 and largely implemented by early 1996. In Mar., 1996, Israel sealed off many towns in the West Bank following a series of suicide bombings inside Israel. Most of Hebron was handed over to the Palestinians in 1997 and, in a 1998 accord, Israel agreed to withdraw from additional West Bank territory. Although progress was slow, this was accomplished by Mar., 2000. Any chance of further progress was stymied by a new cycle of violence that began in the fall after Ariel Sharon visited the Haram esh-Sherif (or Temple Mount) in Jerusalem.

Israel's construction of a security barrier in the West Bank became an international issue in 2003. It was begun in 2002 in the N West Bank, where it paralleled the border, and around Jerusalem, but its planned extension south and into the West Bank to protect Israeli settlements brought widespread condemnation because of West Bank territory it would enclosed and the many Palestinians whose lives would be disrupted. An International Court of Justice opinion (2004), requested by the UN General Assembly, termed barrier illegal, in part because it encloses Palestinian territory. Israeli court decisions have several times ordered the wall partially rerouted because of the hardship it would cause.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005 after Arafat's death. He and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon subsequently agreed to a truce, and in Mar., 2005, Israeli forces began handing over control of Jericho and other West Bank towns to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Subsequent violence, however, halted and reversed the process. A few Israeli settlements in the N West Bank were evacuated in 2005 in conjunction with the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. By mid-2009, Israel had eased its control over a number of towns while not restoring full PA control.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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