What's The Difference Between The West Bank and The Gaza Strip?

Gaza Rocket Attack_July17 An Israeli rocket is fired into the northern Gaza Strip Thursday.

When Israel invaded the Gaza Strip Thursday, no military operation was happening in the other part of the Palestinian territories, the West Bank. The two territories have had drastically different relationships with Israel and the rest of the world.

In the Gaza Strip, the government is led by the radical Islamist movement Hamas. In the West Bank, Fatah, a political party formerly known as the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, is in power. Both Hamas and Fatah are predominantly Sunni Muslim groups. Israel considers the leadership of the West Bank to be its legitimate negotiating partner for the Palestinian territories.

While both groups were created with the goal of reclaiming land from Israel, Fatah has accepted the existence of Israel, but Hamas hasn’t. Hamas, headed by Khaled Mashal, is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S., Canada, Egypt and Jordan,  as well as the European Union. Israel refuses to consider Hamas a legitimate government, and Hamas refuses to acknowledge the State of Israel.

Until recently, Fatah also refused to recognize Hamas as a legitimate government. In April 2014, however, the two Palestinian factions announced a reconciliation agreement, as BBC News reported. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the Palestinian National Authority, condemned Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip, calling them a “genocide.” Speaking in the West Bank last week, he said, “What's happening now is a war against the Palestinian people as a whole and not against the [militant] factions.”

Occupied_Palestinian_Territories as of 2011 A map of the Palestinian territories published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs December 2011.

The map of the Palestinian territories came to look the way it does today because of a series of wars, accords, uprisings and violent clashes. Below is a timeline of major events.

1967

In the 1967 Six-Day War, aka the Arab-Israeli War, Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Among other territory, it then occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Palestinians had lived on much of the land taken by Israel.

1978

In 1978, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords, promoted by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. It was the first peace treaty signed between Israel and an Arab country. One of the accord’s conditions was that an autonomous government be set up in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Once that was established, Israeli troops had to leave the territories. Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt and left the Gaza Strip, but kept several settlements scattered across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The settlements have only grown since then, and as of 2012 had a population exceeding 350,000, as noted by the Guardian.

1987-1993

The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation, began at the end of 1987. Before 1991, Israel had a policy of “General Exit” permits for Palestinians who wanted to travel between Palestinian territories and Israel, as pointed out by Al Jazeera. During the Intifada, that policy was canceled, forcing Palestinians to apply for a personal permit every time they wanted to travel, even just to go from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. 

1993

Signed in 1993, the Oslo Accords were similar to the Camp David Accords as they called for removal of Israeli forces almost completely from Gaza and from sections of the West Bank. The Oslo Accords were a series of agreements that created the Palestinian Authority, which would establish the West Bank and Gaza as one geopolitical unit. Essentially, the Oslo Accords required that Israel recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization as a legitimate negotiating partner and that, in turn, the Palestinian Authority recognize the state of Israel.

2001-2005

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority continued throughout the latter part of the 1990s. Israel removed its settlements in Gaza and some northern portions of the West Bank, but it did not leave the territories completely. The Oslo Accords failed at finding a two-state solution before hardliner Ariel Sharon was sworn in as prime minister of Israel in 2001. Shortly before his election, Sharon visited the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem -- the site of Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam -- where, as recalled by Al Jazeera, he said, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” Shortly after that provocative visit, the Second Intifada began, this one much bloodier than the first.

After heavy casualties on both sides, Sharon in 2005 decided Israel would leave the Gaza Strip permanently and build a wall to protect itself. Several suicide bombings associated with Hamas had already brought it “terrorist” status in many Western countries. That year, Palestinians held an election, and Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in as the head of the Palestinian Authority. A month later, Abbas and Sharon declared a truce between Israel and the PA. 

2006-2007

While things had calmed down between Israel and the PA, another conflict was simmering inside the Palestinian territories between Hamas and Fatah. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections when it ran as the Change and Reform Party. Fatah backed a move against the new government. By June 2007, Abbas had dissolved the government and dismissed Hamas. Hamas rejected the ouster and remained in control of Gaza, effectively splitting the territories. The two refused to recognize each other as legitimate governments until April 2014.

After Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, Israel reacted. Palestinians from Gaza who were living in the West Bank were forced to go back, while leaving Gaza was restricted to “exceptional humanitarian cases.” The Gaza Strip has been periodically subjected to an air, land and sea blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

2014

Today, Gaza and Israel continue to be in conflict. The blockade led Hamas to build smuggling tunnels to Egypt, and these tunnels are now targets of the ground invasion Israel launched Thursday. This is the second phase of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s offensive against increasing rocket attacks from Gaza. At least 270 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded in the 10 days since the offensive began with airstrike. According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas has launched more than a thousand rockets into Israel during that same period. 

Join the Discussion