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The term "Palestinian territories" is used by mainstream Western journalists as a collective name for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - two disputed territories in Palestine.
Some nationalists seek to found a new nation-state in these non-sovereign areas. They are chiefly Arabs indigenous to the region, and are either called "Palestinian Arabs" or (for short) Palestinians.
- Note: some writers dislike using the term Palestinians for the stateless Palestinian Arab nationalists referred to above, as they feel it connotes the view that Jewish, Christian, Druze, Bedouin and other residents of Palestine aren't "real Palestinians".
Because nearly all of these nationalists and their sympathizers, as well as the bulk of the United Nations Organization, consider these territiories to be under occupation by Israel, they frequently refer to them as the occupied Palestinian territories. This term connotes much more than a definition, but a host of related propositions that amount to an argument about the disposition of the land:
- that these territories are under military control of a nation that does not have sovereignty over them
- that the nation in control of these territories, i.e., Israel, is thus obliged (as a matter of right as well as by international law) to "return" these territories to their rightful owners
- that these territories belong by right to "the Palestinians", i.e., the stateless indigenous Arabs of Palestine
The term Palestinian territories, used in a more general sense, simply refers to areas within the geographic region known from ancient times as "Palestine" (see definitions of Palestine).
See Arab-Israeli conflict.
Meanings of the term
Not all users of the term intend to convey the same meaning, which can lead to confusion. The term "Palestinian territory" is often obfuscated for political reasons--centrally that Israel naturally does not want to unilaterally compromise its own interests, by politically legitimizing any Palestinian claims to land within the boundaries of Israel. At times, the term "Israeli territory" will include the very land where Palestinian refugees currently live. Thus not all users of the term intend to convey the same meaning, which can lead to confusion:
- Many advocates use the term Palestinian territories to imply that these ought to belong to the Palestinian people -- or that they already do, either by right or by international law. In particular, the Palestine Liberation Organization has declared West Bank and Gaza Strip as such territories, following the Oslo Accords.
- Some journalists use the term merely to indicates lands where Palestinian Arabs dwell, outside the "green line," or Israel's border prior to 1967.
- Some Palestinian nationalists consider the land within Israel's de facto boundaries to be de jure part of "Palestine". Some advocates have claimed that maps used in schools under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority depict "Palestine" as consisting of all the territory between the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon, Syria, the Jordan River and Egypt - including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip - though it has been argued that the maps referred to are geological and historical maps (which show regions and geographical features), rather than political maps (which show countries).
Often people refer to non-sovereign lands that are within the traditional boundaries of "Palestine", but outside the generally recognized borders of Jordan and Israel, as being "Palestinian territories". As mentioned above, since the late 1990s, this has included most of the Gaza Strip and large sections of the West Bank.
- This usage tends to convey a complex of ideas, chiefly the view that (1) there exists a Palestinian people who (2) deserve their own homeland which (3) ought to include Gaza and West Bank.
- Adherents of this point of view or users of this definition commonly use the term occupied Palestinian territories.
Bi-national claims to the same lands have been made, based on exacerbated political and ethnic distinctions. While a neutral observer may view these distinctions as minor, the conflict is in fact an ethnic one, with claims to sovereignty and divinity embellishing the underlying political and territorial issues. This article discusses both Israeli and Arab claims.
Israeli claims to the territories are based primarily on three arguments (though there are others). First, the territory historically belonged to Israel first. The Arabs and their western supporters dismiss this claim as irrelevant, since Jews, having been mostly driven out by Rome in the years 70CE and 135CE, did not control the land at the time the Arabs arrived. This is a complicated issue, with few precedents to draw upon elsewhere in history, since Israel's having thrice returned to the same land from exile is very unusual.
Second, many Israelites hold that the land was promised to them by God. This claim is based largely on Genesis chapter 15. Westerners sympathetic to the Palestinians often dismiss this claim as religious and therefore without force in a modern international dispute; the Palestinians themselves counter it in a variety of ways, such as by claiming that since Ishmael was firstborn, he should inherit the promise. (This counterargument is based on some of the claims of Islam, the dominant religion among the Palestinian Arabs.)
The third Israeli claim is based on their current control of the territories. (Possession is nine tenths of modern property law.) The Palestinians counter this claim by saying that Israel is controlling the territories unjustly, and some extremists deny the validity of the Israeli nation entirely.
The Palestinian claims are in some ways similar, despite being diametrically opposed to Israel's claims. First, they claim that they have continuously lived in the area longer than anyone else, making their current stay in the land (and therefore their current claim to it) the most longstanding. Israelis counter this by pointing out that they had occupied the land previously, before being driven out by Rome, and that in any event some Jews have lived there continuously since Roman times.
Second, the Palestinians point out that they are the primary demographic group in the contested regions right now. The land therefore belongs to them because they currently occupy and possess it. Israel disputes their independence, since Israel has some level of control over the territories, and since they are adjacent to and dependent upon less-disputed Israeli territory.
It is not the facts, then, that are the crux of the dispute; it is the interpretation and implications of the facts that are the focus of all the turmoil in the region. The following points are (at least for the most part) not in dispute:
- The Israelis are descended from the people who lived in the area prior to the year 70. Most of them were driven out and scattered at that time, but there was no interruption in the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.
- The Arab settlers arrived in the 7th century and later.
- The large numbers of Jews began returning to the region as a result of the Zionist movement (q.v.)
- The Palestinians are the largest demographic currently living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip regions.
- Israel currently exercises a measure of control, but the Palestinians also have some measure of self-determination, though it is less than they (the Palestinians) would like.
- According to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, both the Jews and the Arabs are descended from patriarch Abraham: Jews are the descendants of Isaac through Jacob and Arabs, including the Palestinians, are the descendants of Ishmael.
All of this, however, leaves both sides adamant that their claims on the territories are the stronger or more important claims.
Historical status of West Bank and Gaza Strip
The only natural geographic boundaries for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, respectively. The rest of their boundaries were defined as cease-fire lines of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Following the war, West Bank was annexed by Jordan, though the annexation was recognized only by the United Kingdom and Pakistan. The Gaza Strip was occupied, but not annexed, by Egypt.
Israel captured these territories in the 1967 Six-Day War; since then they have been under Israeli control. The UN Security Council Resolution 242, passed after the war, has introduced the "Land for Peace" formula for Israel's normalization with its neighbors. (See discussion.)
Since the early 1990s, the Palestine Liberation Organization has negotiated with Israel the creation of a Palestinian autonomous administration, and in the perspective - the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on these territories.
The Oslo Accords led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority - which includes a Palestinian civil administration in the smaller towns and a security presence in the bigger cities on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Authority lacks full sovereignty, but it does possess an army-like police force (however, see below for the current status).
Legal Status of the territories
Palestinians seeking to create a new Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip generally argue that the creation and the presence of Israeli settlements or military forces in those areas is a violation of international law, as affirmed by a majority of members of the Geneva convention: "12. The participating High Contracting Parties call upon the Occupying Power to fully and effectively respect the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and to refrain from perpetrating any violation of the Convention. They reaffirm the illegality of the settlements in the said territories and of the extension thereof. They recall the need to safeguard and guarantee the rights and access of all inhabitants to the Holy Places."  (http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/85255a0a0010ae82852555340060479d/8fc4f064b9be5bad85256c1400722951!OpenDocument)
East Jerusalem, captured in 1967, was unilaterally annexed by Israel. This annexation has not been recognized by the international community, although U.S. lawmakers have declared their intention to recognize the annexation. Other states and organizations have condemned this proposal by some United States lawmakers. Because of the question of Jerusalem's status, some states refuse to accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and treat Tel Aviv as the de facto capital, basing their diplomatic missions there.
Israel claims that these territories are not currently claimed by any other state, and that Israel has the right to control them, at least temporarily. In other words, Israel's stance is that while Palestinians do have the right to self-determination (as confirmed by the Oslo Accords), that does not mean they should automatically receive these territories.
Israel's position has not been accepted by most countries and international bodies, at least in their statements. The West Bank, and the Gaza Strip have been referred to as "occupied territories" (with Israel as the occupying power) by Palestinian Arabs  (http://www.lawsociety.org/Reports/reports/1999/geneva4.html), the rest of the Arab bloc, the UK  (http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200102/cmhansrd/cm020510/text/20510w11.htm), the EU, (usually) the USA ( (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/nea/8262.htm#ot),  (http://www.mugu.com/upstream-list-archive/current/msg03263.html)), both the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations (http://www.lawsociety.org/Reports/reports/1999/geneva4.html), the International Court of Justice, and the Israeli Supreme Court (see Israeli West Bank barrier).
The international community did not declare any change in the status of the territories as of the creation of the Palestinian Authority between 1993 and 2000. Although a 1999 U.N. document (see the link above) implied that the chance for a change in that status was slim at the period, most observers agreed that the Palestinian territories' classification as occupied was losing substantiality, and would be withdrawn after the signing of a permanent peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians (see also Proposals for a Palestinian state).
During the period between the 1993 Oslo Accords and the al-Aqsa Intifada beginning in 2000, Israeli officials claimed that the term "occupation" did not accurately reflect the state of affairs in the Palestinian territories. During this time, the Palestinian population had a large degree of autonomy and only limited exposure to the IDF. Following the events of the al-Aqsa Intifada, and in particular, Operation Defensive Shield, most territories outside Palestinian cities (Area B) are under at least some degree of intermittent Israeli military control.
Following the events of the Second Intifada, most of those areas are now once again under effective Israeli military control, so the discussion along those lines is largely moot as of now (autumn 2002).