Freedom in the World
West Bank *
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Although the Palestinian Authority was credited with facilitating economic and security improvements in the West Bank in 2010, President Mahmoud Abbas continued to serve after the 2009 expiration of his elected term, and his appointed government functioned without an elected legislature. No new elections had been scheduled by year’s end. A short period of direct peace talks between Abbas’s government and Israel ended in late September after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlement construction, and the territory suffered from regular, often violent confrontations over land and other issues during the year.
The West Bank was demarcated as part of the 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. It consists of the land between the armistice line in the west and the Jordan River in the east. The territory was subsequently occupied and annexed by Jordan. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel conquered the West Bank along with the Gaza Strip and other territories, and subsequently annexed East Jerusalem, leaving the rest of the West Bank and Gaza under a military administration.
After 1967, Israel began establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a process that—along with the annexation of East Jerusalem—was regarded as illegal by most of the international community. Israel maintained that the settlements were legal since under international law the West Bank was a disputed territory. In what became known as the first intifada (uprising), in 1987, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza staged massive demonstrations, acts of civil disobedience, and attacks against Israeli settlers and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops in the territories, as well as attacks within Israel proper. Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) reached an agreement in 1993 that provided for a PLO renunciation of terrorism and recognition of Israel, Israeli troop withdrawals, and phased Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza.
In subsequent years, the new Palestinian Authority (PA) took control of 40 percent of West Bank territory, including 98 percent of the Palestinian population outside of East Jerusalem. As stalled negotiations on a final settlement and the creation of a Palestinian state headed toward collapse, a second intifada began in September 2000, and the IDF reentered most PA-administered areas.
After Arafat died in November 2004, the PA in January 2005 held its second-ever presidential election, which had been repeatedly postponed; the first voting for president and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) had taken place in 1996. Mahmoud Abbas of Arafat’s Fatah faction won the 2005 contest with 62 percent of the vote in the West Bank and Gaza. In municipal voting in the West Bank, Fatah won most municipalities, but the Islamist faction Hamas posted impressive gains. Each group accused the other of fraud, and there was some election-related violence.
Hamas won the January 2006 elections for the PLC with 74 of 132 seats, while Fatah took just 45. Fatah and Hamas then formed a unity government headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas. Israel, the United States, and the European Union (EU) refused to recognize the new government, citing Hamas’s involvement in terrorism and its refusal to recognize Israel or past Israel-PA agreements. The United States and the EU, then the largest donors to the PA, cut off assistance to the government.
Armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah supporters escalated in 2007, and in June Hamas militants seized Fatah-controlled facilities in Gaza. Thousands of Gazans, particularly those loyal to Fatah, fled along with most Fatah militants to the West Bank. Abbas subsequently dismissed the Hamas-led government, declared a state of emergency, and appointed an emergency cabinet led by former finance minister Salam Fayad. This resulted in a bifurcated PA, with Hamas governing Gaza and Abbas and Fayad governing the roughly 40 percent of the West Bank not directly administered by Israel. Fatah later cracked down on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting its officials and supporters, shutting down its affiliated civic organizations and media outlets, and allegedly torturing some detainees.
In the years after the split, the Fatah-controlled PA in the West Bank benefited from renewed U.S. and EU aid as well as tax revenues released by Israeli authorities. So-called confidence-building measures between Israel and the PA in the West Bank included the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, the wider deployment of Palestinian security forces, and the lifting of a number of Israeli checkpoints.
Nevertheless, the IDF reportedly still controlled about 60 percent of the West Bank, and construction continued on a security barrier that ran roughly along the West Bank side of the 1949 armistice line and often jutted farther into the territory to place densely populated Jewish settlements on the Israeli side. Palestinians complained that the barrier, which by the end of 2010 was about 70 percent complete, expropriated West Bank land and collectively punished ordinary Palestinians for acts committed by terrorists. Since construction of the barrier began, attacks inside Israel have decreased by 90 percent. The International Court of Justice declared the barrier illegal in 2004.
Countering a trend of settlement expansion in recent years, Israel froze settlement construction in the West Bank for most of 2010, though construction continued in East Jerusalem. The freeze was initiated under U.S. pressure for the resumption of direct peace talks between Israel and the West Bank PA, which began in early September. The PA soon broke off the talks after Israel declined to extend its moratorium on settlement construction after it expired later that month.
In 1988, Jordan rescinded citizenship for West Bank Palestinians, and Israel never granted them citizenship. Most Palestinian residents are citizens of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a quasi-sovereign entity created by the 1993 Oslo Accords. Jewish settlers in the West Bank are all Israeli citizens.
PLO indefinitely extended his term in December 2009. The January election date was subsequently canceled, and no new date had been set by the end of 2010.
Whereas previous editions of Freedom in the World featured one report for Israeli-occupied portions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and another for Palestinian-administered portions, the present edition divides the territories based on geography, with one report for the West Bank and another for the Gaza Strip. As in previous years, Israel is examined in a separate report.