Israeli settlements and their impact on Palestinians in the Jordan Valley
By Lara El-Jazairi, Fionna Smyth and Marwa El-Ansary, Oxfam Report
July 5, 2012
[This is is the summary and introduction; for the full report click on the headline above.
The Jordan Valley, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, has the potential to be the breadbasket of any future Palestinian state. However, the persistent expansion of Israeli settlements and other restrictions on Palestinian development have made life extremely difficult for Palestinian communities. New plans to increase the land, water, and infrastructure available to Israeli settlements will further aggravate this already serious situation. Unless the international community takes action to reverse Israeli government policies and practices, the prospects for the future establishment of a viable Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel in peace and security, look dangerously remote.
The Jordan Valley, located in the eastern part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), makes up 30 per cent of the West Bank (see Map 1 on page 7). Requisitions and expropriations of Palestinian land by the Israeli authorities continue to destroy the livelihoods of Palestinians living in the area and, unless action is taken, there are strong indications that the situation will only get worse.
The Israeli government recently announced proposals and policies for the expansion of settlements, which, if implemented, will further threaten the living conditions and human rights of Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley, undermining efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the OPT and Israel.
Only 6 per cent of the land in the Jordan Valley is currently available for Palestinian use and development.
1 While the Israeli settlements there have developed modernised agribusinesses that produce crops for high-value export to the European Union (EU) and international markets, Palestinian farmers – most of whom are smallholders – face restrictions that severely hamper their ability to sell their produce locally, regionally, or internationally.
Development is further constrained because Palestinian families and businesses, and even EU donors and aid agencies, find it nearly impossible to gain permits to build homes, toilets, wells, animal pens, or other vital infrastructure for local communities. Less than 1 per cent of „Area C‟ (the 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control where nearly all of the Jordan Valley is located) has been planned for Palestinian development by the Israeli Civil Administration, and 94 per cent of permits have been rejected in recent years.
Essential structures built without development plans and hard-to-obtain permits are frequently demolished in contravention of international law. It is estimated that if Israeli restrictions on Palestinian development were removed, an additional 50 sq/km of the Jordan Valley could be cultivated, potentially adding $1bn a year to the Palestinian economy, or 9 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Successive Israeli governments have stated that the Jordan Valley is essential to Israel‟s security, and continue to encourage the development of civilian (mostly agricultural) settlements that are illegal under international law.
Today, 37 settlements in the region are home to 9,500 Israelis, with the settlement authorities (or „Regional Councils‟) currently controlling 86 per cent of the land. Settlements are supported by substantial Israeli government subsidies and incentives (e.g. for housing, education, water, and transport). Israeli settlers also receive favourable access to transport linkages and to national and international markets. One Israeli economist has estimated that the Government of Israel spends $24,650 per settler each year on various subsidies and grants to Israeli settlements across the OPT.
Between 2000 and 2006, the average grant per capita to Israeli settlers in the West Bank was approximately 57 per cent higher than the average expenditure per capita for Israeli citizens inside Israel.
In contrast, Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley receive no subsidies from either the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the Israeli Government. Instead, they and their small-scale farming and herding businesses face additional costs due to Israeli-imposed restrictions on travel and the transportation of goods in and out of the Jordan Valley. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) has estimated that additional transportation costs incurred by transporting Palestinian farm produce via routes that avoid the most problematic Israeli checkpoints amount to $1.9m annually.
As well as increased transport costs, Palestinian farmers have to pay for water that is brought in by tankers, making their produce much more expensive and therefore less competitive than that of Israeli settler farmers. Palestinians across the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) also face systematic and discriminatory policies that restrict their freedom of movement, their access to land, water, and markets, and their ability to build infrastructure to support their livelihoods. In addition, many Palestinians, left with few alternative ways to earn a living, work on settlement farms and are denied their labour rights.
The development challenges and the denial of human rights faced by Palestinian farmers have been compounded, until recently, by a lack of donor investment in the Jordan Valley and other parts of West Bank „Area C‟. As the EU Heads of Diplomatic Mission report states: „The Palestinian state-building project is in effect partly limited to the fragmented and isolated “islands” of Areas A and B [where the PA is able to operate], in the “ocean” of contiguous Area C.‟
The cumulative effects of Israeli government restrictions and a lack of donor and Palestinian investment mean that the poverty levels of Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley are almost double those in the rest of the West Bank. Combined with persistent human rights abuses, this is forcing many Palestinians to leave their homes in search of jobs, security, and essential services.
Unless action is taken now, there are strong indications that the situation will deteriorate further. Recent years have seen a significant rise in construction of Israeli settlements, violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians, and demolition of Palestinian buildings and other structures such as cisterns, solar panels and animal pens. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said in a speech in January 2012 that the Government of Israel would sign „a permanent agreement [with the Palestinians] only if it includes Israel‟s remaining in the Jordan Valley…‟.
Eight months earlier, the government announced that the amount of agricultural land allocated to Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley was to be more than doubled. In March 2012, the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, approved a budget allocating $2m for additional settlements in the Jordan Valley and Binyamin District. These decisions represent part of an alarming negative trend whereby land, resources, and livelihoods in the Jordan Valley are being systematically denied to Palestinian communities in order to expand settlements.
The sheer number and scope of the restrictions on Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere in the West Bank suggest that they are part of a systematic policy to push Palestinians off their land, while increasing Israeli government control. Unless urgent action is taken to reverse this trend and to end existing discriminatory policies, what little land and resources are available to Palestinians will be further reduced, displacing more Palestinians in search of a viable future. And as the EU Heads of Diplomatic Mission report states: „The window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing … Area C comprises crucial natural resources and land for the future demographic and economic growth of a viable Palestinian state.‟
As Israel’s largest trading partner and the biggest donor to the Palestinians,
the EU should:
• Move beyond statements and take urgent action to press the Government of Israel to end the construction of settlements and comply with its responsibilities under international law, in line with the 2004 Advisory Opinion given by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legal consequences of the construction of the Wall in the OPT, which the
EU has endorsed.
• Take immediate steps to ensure the implementation of the May 2012 EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions and the recommendations of the recent EU Heads of Diplomatic Mission reports on Area C and East Jerusalem. This includes putting pressure on the Government of Israel to transfer planning authority relating to Palestinian villages and towns in the
Jordan Valley and across Area C to Palestinian control and taking firm, collective diplomatic action at the highest level to push for an end to the unlawful demolition of Palestinian civilian infrastructure.
• Press for conditions that will allow for the full implementation of the EU–Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) Association Agreement, which provides real opportunities for Palestinian produce to access European markets, including urgently pushing for an end to Israeli restrictions on the movement and transport of goods. The international community, donors, and Palestinian and international NGOs should:
• Support the drafting of a comprehensive Palestinian National Development Plan, which includes a strong strategy for the Jordan Valley and other parts of Area C in consultation with the Palestinian people, and ensure that all strategies and projects are in line with national plans.
• In the absence of an Israeli planning regime which seeks to alleviate poverty amongst the Palestinian population, initiate and support development projects in the Jordan Valley and other parts of Area C, including building new schools, community centres, clinics, municipal buildings, roads, irrigation, and other infrastructure projects. These bodies must monitor implementation closely and, backed by diplomatic and political support, move ahead with projects even if they have not been approved by the Israeli Civil Administration (unless Israeli refusal is based on genuine security concerns that are legitimate under international law), in line with the
draft recommendations of the EU Heads of Diplomatic Mission report on Area C.
The Palestinian Authority should:
• Produce and implement a more comprehensive and consultative
National Development Plan that identifies priority needs across the entire
OPT, including the Jordan Valley and other parts of Area C.
• Support Palestinian farmers in the Jordan Valley to preserve their
livelihoods and stay on their land through prioritising provision of water,
fodder, and shelter in the event of demolitions, and providing sustainable
support to Palestinian farmers and herders.
• In the absence of an Israeli planning regime that supports Palestinian development, agree and adopt a robust common position with regard to Israeli permits in order to support Palestinian development projects in the Jordan Valley and other parts of Area C, even if they have not been approved by the Israeli Civil Administration (unless Israeli refusal is based on genuine security concerns that are legitimate under international law).
The Government of Israel should:
• Immediately halt the construction of settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and withdraw from all existing settlement infrastructure in line with the recommendations of the 2004 ICJ Advisory Opinion.
• Reverse policies and practices that are illegal under international law and that harm the livelihoods of Palestinian civilians. This will include handing over planning authorities for Palestinian villages and towns in the Jordan Valley and across Area C to Palestinian control; immediately ceasing the confiscation of Palestinian land and resources; ending restrictions of Palestinian access and movement; and halting the demolition of civilian infrastructure.
• Ensure the protection of the Palestinian population, including through the application of the rule of law without discrimination or exception in relation to violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property and livelihoods.
“Social and economic developments in Area C are of critical importance for the viability of a future Palestinian state, as Area C is its main land reserve.
The EU calls upon Israel to meet its obligations regarding the living conditions of the Palestinian population in Area C, including by accelerated approval of Palestinian master plans, halting forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing and infrastructure, simplifying administrative procedures to obtain building permits, ensuring access to water and addressing humanitarian needs.‟
EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, 14 May 2012”
The Israeli government‟s expansion of settlements and demolition of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, which violate international law, together with the raft of longstanding discriminatory laws and policies, have had a major impact on Palestinian communities living in the Jordan Valley, locking them into poverty and involving widespread human rights violations. New plans to more than double the size of settlements in the Jordan Valley (see next section) threaten to destroy Palestinian livelihoods that are already on the brink.
The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 and 1995 (the latter agreement known as „Oslo II‟), were intended to temporarily divide the West Bank into three administrative zones, areas A, B, C. „Area A‟ is designated under full civil and security Palestinian Authority (PA) control, and consists mostly of the main towns, including Ramallah and Jericho. In „Area B‟, the PA has control over civilian services such as planning, but only joint security control with the Israeli military. „Area C‟, the largest administrative area of the West Bank, is under the full civil and military control of the Israeli government.
The focus of this report is the Jordan Valley. However, the report also references the term „Area C‟ since more than 90 per cent of the Jordan Valley is classified as Area C and the issues described below are examples of the wider Israeli government policies and practices that determine the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians across much of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Disaggregated data is also not always available for the Jordan Valley. However, wherever possible, exact information for the Jordan Valley is provided.
The second section of this report discusses Israeli government control over two assets vital for Palestinian agricultural livelihoods – land and water. It then describes how Israeli policies have resulted in the demolition of Palestinian
homes and infrastructure, displacing many families to other areas of the West Bank. It considers the consequences of violence by Israeli settlers and of restrictions on the free movement of people and goods, and examines exploitative labour conditions on settler farms. The final section outlines recommendations for the Government of Israel, the PA, and international policymakers. Oxfam welcomes the recent unprecedented statements made by the EU Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 14 May 2012 („Council Conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process‟); however, these must be urgently translated into firm action.
Oxfam has worked in the Jordan Valley for more than 20 years and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) for more than 50 years. It has witnessed the daily impact that settlement expansion, building restrictions, and demolitions have had on Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley and across Area C. Oxfam recognises the need for a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian–Israeli conflict and condemns violence by all sides. This report draws on that wealth of experience; it is based on secondary literature and interviews with civil society organisations (CSOs) working in Israel and the West Bank, government officials, and Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley, as well as Israeli government documents. While Oxfam did interview some settlers, many requests for interviews were declined. In addition, letters dated 1 May 2012 were sent to four Israeli ministries requesting additional information and in order to verify figures used. As of 22 June, Oxfam had not received a response.