The Roads Not Taken

Restrictions have turned the West Bank into isolated enclaves.

The regime of restriction on movement imposed by Israel on the Palestinians has crumbled the West Bank into dozens of closed or partially closed enclaves isolated from each other despite their geographical proximity. Permanent and mobile checkpoints, along with physical barriers of various kinds, fencing off of main roads, limitations on Palestinian traffic on east-west and north-south arteries, have cut off direct transportational links between areas of the West Bank.

Thus, a new geographic, social and economic reality has emerged in the West Bank.

Hundreds of exits from Palestinian communities to main and regional roads are blocked. Traffic among the enclaves is directed to secondary roads and a small number of main roads passing through Israel Defense Force-controlled bottle-necks. Entry to the Jordan Valley, Palestinian East Jerusalem and to enclaves between the separation fence and the Green Line is barred to all Palestinians except those registered as residents of those areas. To enter such areas, special authorization to "non-residents" must be obtained, which is rarely given.

Palestinians are not allowed to drive their cars between the northern and southern West Bank (through the Abu Dis checkpoint east of Jerusalem). Private vehicular traffic to and from Nablus is prohibited. Passage by car through the Qalandiyah checkpoint north of Jerusalem is limited to bearers of Jerusalem residency cards, in cars with Israeli license plates. At the Zaatara checkpoint south of Nablus entry is frequently denied to all south-bound residents of the northern West Bank as part of the IDF "differentiation" policy.

Thus, according to a recently released report by the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a horizontal trisection of the West Bank has been affected by checkpoint at bottle-necks in Zaatara (south of Nablus), Qalandiyah (south of Ramallah) and Abu Dis (east of Jerusalem). On the other hand, the blocking of access to the east and west of the West Bank has created a vertical narrowing of the Palestinian territory.

The OCHA report notes that movement within the three areas is less restricted than movement between them. However, follow-up by Haaretz, Machsom-Watch, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and OCHA reveal that even within the areas limitations on movement are frequently imposed on a specific city or village or on Palestinians in various age groups.

Despite growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the West Bank and Gaza in 2005 of between eight and nine percent, the per capita GDP has dipped by about 30 percent since 1999, according to the World Bank. The fact that the Palestinian economy is functioning well below its potential, according to the World Bank, is first and foremost the result of restrictions on the movement of people and goods.

The economist Hisham Awartani believes that limitations of Palestinian traffic has raised the cost of the transport of goods and raw materials five-fold. The relay of goods back-to-back in Nablus and Ramallah, long waits at internal checkpoints and travel on poor, bumpy roads damages goods and agricultural produce. In a meeting two weeks ago between Palestinian business people and World Bank representative David Craig and diplomats, Awartani said the restrictions were impairing the competitive edge of Palestinian manufacturers and farmers.

According to Awartani, Palestinian export to Israel is 50 percent below its 2000 rate. Israeli import to the Palestinian areas has fallen by about 34 percent since 2000 because of the decline in Palestinian buying power. According to the World Bank, in the first third of 2005, unemployment in the Palestinian Authority was 23 percent (20 percent in Gaza and 29 percent in the West Bank) - more than double the rate before the intifada. Joblessness in the 20-24 age group was 35 percent, with 43 percent of the population below the poverty line.