World Bank slams West Bank policies

Report: PA economy suffers from "obstacles" that divide area into enclaves.

Nablus checkpoint 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Nablus checkpoint 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Palestinian economy can't recover unless Israel dismantles a network of obstacles that has carved up the West Bank into a dozen enclaves and restricted Palestinian access to more than half the territory, the World Bank said in an exceptionally harsh report Wednesday. Israel's web of physical and administrative barriers to movement goes at times beyond Israeli security needs and is aimed at boosting Jewish settlements, at the expense of the Palestinian population, the bank said. Human rights groups have issued reports about some of the Israeli measures, such as a ban on immigration to the Palestinian territories and Palestinian drivers being banned from some main roads. However, the 18-page World Bank document is the first comprehensive compilation of all the restrictions. In its main finding, the bank said closures have prevented a Palestinian economic recovery. "The system has created such a high level of uncertainty and inefficiency that the normal conduct of business in the West Bank has become exceedingly difficult and investment has been stymied," said David Craig, the World Bank's director for Israel and the Palestinian territories. "Restoring sustainable Palestinian economic growth is dependent on its (the system's) dismantling." Economists have said only such a recovery could reduce the Palestinians' dependence on foreign aid, which topped $1 billion last year. Israel insists the closures are driven by security concerns alone. "We have no interest whatsover in seeing a failed Palestinian economy," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "Many of the current problems are a direct result of terrorism, violence and political instability inside the Palestinian territories ... and the overall anarchy that exists." Many restrictions were imposed or tightened during the second Palestinian uprising, which began in 2000 and was accompanied by suicide bombings and shooting attacks. In 2002, Israel began building a separation barrier that it says is says it meant to keep out attackers, but also puts some 8.5 percent of West Bank land on the "Israeli" side. Former Palestinian Planning Minister Ghassan Khatib said he expects the World Bank will succeed where the Palestinians have failed - in presenting their difficulties to the international community. "It helps convince the relevant governments and public opinion of the actual reality that the Palestinians have been trying to explain without much success," said Khatib, who helped negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement in November 2005 on easing movement and access for the Palestinians. That plan, brokered by the US, ran aground over renewed fighting. The US recently proposed a timeline for implementing sections of the agreement, including lifting many West Bank roadblocks and improving operations at Gaza's bottleneck border crossings. Israel reacted skeptically, while the Palestinians withheld judgment. In its new report, the World Bank acknowledges what it says are Israel's legitimate security concerns. However, it says the closure system is also aimed at "protecting and enhancing the free movement of settlers and the physical and economic expansion of the settlements at the expense of the Palestinian population." The report was issued a month before the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, in which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. In compiling its figures, the World Bank treated the West Bank and east Jerusalem as one unit, in line with the refusal of much of the world to recognize Israel's annexation of the eastern sector of the city after the war. The report said physical obstacles, such as roadblocks and the separation barrier, are the visible signs of closure, but are compounded by administrative controls, including travel permits. Israel continues to runs the population registry in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, determining who receives ID cards, and thus residency rights, after the age of 16, the bank noted. The registry is linked to a permit system, which can be used to control the movement of Palestinians outside their immediate municipal area and to restrict access to large parts of the West Bank. The bank estimated that access to more than 50% of the West Bank is restricted, including land around Jewish settlements. Some 700 kilometers of major West Bank roads are for non-Palestinians only, forcing Palestinian motorists to use sometimes circuitous side roads. "As long as large areas of the West Bank remain inaccessible for economic purposes ... and unpredictable movement remains the norm for the vast majority of Palestinians, sustainable economic recovery will remain elusive," the bank wrote.