World Bank scolds Israel for impeding travel in West Bank

By Avi Issacharoff

The World Bank says Israel harms Palestinian freedom of movement and access to parts of the West Bank, damaging any chances for the Palestinian economy to emerge from crisis.

The bank’s particularly critical report also says the limitations imposed on Palestinians’ movement prevents their access to about 50 percent of the West Bank, and prevents any likelihood that the Palestinian economy can grow.

“Currently, freedom of movement and access for Palestinians within the West Bank is the exception rather than the norm contrary to the commitments undertaken in a number of Agreements between GOI [government of Israel] and the PA,” the report states.

David Craig, World Bank Country Director for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, says Israel’s restrictions policy in the West Bank “increases the costs of business activity there and creates a high level of uncertainty and inefficiency making the normal conduct of business exceedingly difficult and stymies the growth and investment which is necessary to fuel economic revival.”

The authors of the report explain that the policy of “closures” in the West Bank are carried out through a series of policies and regulations as well as the creation of physical obstacles. These contribute to the break-up of the territory into cantons that are becoming increasingly smaller and more disconnected from one another.

The report notes that the number of physical barriers, including checkpoints, roadblocks and gates, in the West Bank continues to rise. Based on data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories (OCHA), the number of such impediments as of March stood at 546, or 44 percent higher than at the signing of the Agreement on Movement and Access in November 2005.

“While physical impediments are the visible manifestations of closure, the means of curtailing Palestinian movement and access are actually far more complex and are based on a set of administrative practices and permit policies which limit the freedom of Palestinians to move home, obtain work, invest in businesses or construction and move about outside of their municipal jurisdiction,” the report states.

The administrative restrictions prevent Palestinians from entering significant portions of the West Bank, including “all areas within the municipal boundaries of settlements, the ‘seam zone,’ the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, restricted roads and other ‘closed’ areas.”

“The combined effect of physical and administrative obstacles is the division of the West Bank into three segments (north, central, south) and additionally ten segments or enclaves, with Palestinians channeled through manned checkpoints in order to move between the trisections and in and out of the enclaves,” the report states.

“The practical effect of this shattered economic space is that on any given day the ability to reach work, school, shopping, healthcare facilities and agricultural land is highly uncertain and subject to arbitrary restriction and delay. In economic terms, the restrictions have created a level of uncertainty and inefficiency which has made the normal conduct of business extremely difficult and therefore has stymied the growth and investment which is necessary to fuel economic revival,” according to the report.

The World Bank report estimates that the Palestinians are prevented from accessing some 41 segments of highways in the West Bank, whose combined length is about 700 kilometers. These roads are limited to use by settlers and international officials. Palestinian drivers can apply for special permits for them and their vehicles to use these segments, but temporary ad hoc checkpoints contribute to “significant uncertainty, cost and risk to the transportation of goods, [and] they act as a further deterrent to Palestinian economic activity.”

The World Bank warns that there will be no economic recovery as long as large portions of the West Bank remain inaccessible for economic purposes. The report concludes that “only through a fundamental reassessment of closure … will the Palestinian private sector be able to recover and fuel sustainable growth.”

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