The West Bank, Part 2: The Price of Politics

by  Jim Sherman | Jul 16, 2010
West Bank
West Bank / asafta/iStock

Jericho and Ramallah were both nicer towns than I expected. (One can combine them with a visit to Bethlehem, too). The standard of living seemed higher than that of Jordan and definitely above Egypt. There are city development projects underway, many funded by the U.S. program in foreign aid. While the West Bank suffers politically, its economy is moving ahead.

One isn't touring here so much for shops or even the attractions really (although religious people would appreciate the Biblical components). This tour is to really learn more about the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict and see it all firsthand.

Adress pointed out how cantons have been created with Jewish settlements dotting the land in between. We saw several that looked like small enclaves you might see in Beverly Hills. This is the number one problem in his opinion. The barrier (or Wall) and numerous checkpoints not only protect the settlements and Israel itself but they end up acting as key parts of a prison system; people are hemmed in by the walls, restricted access roads, and checkpoints. I can't disagree with Adress, as the effect is quite obvious.

In fact, the West Bank is divided into three zones – Areas A, B, and C – depending on who is in control and who lives there. So, Area A is under Palestinian control and administration. Area B is under Israeli control but Palestinian administration (for example, a Palestinian town close to the center of the West Bank).  Area C is under Israeli control and administration (such as a settlement, a buffer zone, East Jerusalem, or large unpopulated desert areas). Yes, it's all very complicated.

What's sad is that the entire region can be a mecca (so to speak) for tourism. With marvelous beaches from the Mediterranean coast of Beirut south to Tel Aviv and maybe someday Gaza, combined with religious cultural offerings dotting every country (and using the Bible as a guide book) there is untold opportunity in the tourism industry – if only the parties solved their political problems.

Alas, pragmatism doesn't seem to exist. To Americans, we have a spirit of solving problems and looking forward. To people here in the Middle East, there is a tendency to seek all or nothing, refuse compromise (observing only black versus white), and see only the hopelessness of the past rather than the potential of a better future.

When I asked our guide if he could live with 95 percent of what the Palestinians want, the answer I got was, "Why?" And then, "No." When I explained that pragmatism and compromise were needed, I seemed to be speaking to the wind. Interestingly, later when I spoke to an Israeli young person, he saw little hope.  He sees an unending conflict and doesn't believe the two-state solution will come about. And even if it did, he sees Arab demands not ending with it. He also referenced that Arafat was offered 95 percent of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as his capital but he turned it down.

Are the differences irreconcilable? I believe they are reconcilable but only with exceptional mediation by a third party (either the U.S. or some other neutral party) who applies strong pressure on both parties to compromise. There won't be progress without it. The parties distrust one another too much.

I encourage travelers to visit Israel and take a day to tour parts of the West Bank. The region is fascinating and this unique tour is both culturally and politically rich.

Andaz San Diego
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