The Palestinian people trace their ancestry to the Canaanites and other Semitic people who moved into historical Palestine some 2000 years ago.
The West Bank comprises the area west of the Jordan River, which between 1950 and 1967 was under Jordanian sovereignty. It is approximately 5655km in size and has a population of 2.1 million. The West Bank is predominantly rural with up to 60% of the population living in about 500 villages. There are eight medium size towns.
The Gaza Strip is a narrow strip of land on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean sea, lying about 64km southeast of the West Bank. It is bordered by Israel on the north and east and Egypt on the south under whose rule the area fell between 1950 and 1967. Stretching about 45km from north to south and only about 5km wide it comprises an area of only 365 km sq. With a population numbering 1.4 million it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Gaza is highly urbanised with the bulk of the population living in cities, towns and eight crowded refugee camps, home to over 800,000 refugees.
From 1967 until 1993 both areas were under complete Israeli control. Following the Oslo Peace Accords, some areas of the West Bank were handed over to Palestinian National Authority, along with 60% of the Gaza Strip.
A major political development took place on the Palestinian front during the last quarter of 2012. On 29 November, the UN General Assembly upgraded the status of Palestine to a non-member observer state as a step towards a resolution of the Palestinian – Israeli conflict.
The Gaza Strip has been deprived of development since the imposition by Israel of a comprehensive blockade in 2007. As a result, development and reconstruction needs in the Strip are enormous: from governance and livelihoods to environment and infrastructure, especially in the aftermath of the military Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009). Unemployment rates in Gaza remain amongst the highest in the world, all while some 80 percent of the population receive humanitarian assistance in the absence of socio-economic development.
In Jerusalem, Palestinians face restrictive construction policies and, as a result, experience a growing housing and property crisis. The erection of the Separation Wall has undermined the economy of East Jerusalem and is a main cause of growing unemployment rates. Basic services and access to land are unequally distributed by the Jerusalem municipality and are insufficient to cater to Palestinians’ natural development needs, including housing, education and health.
Development in Area C too is subjected to restrictive policies and practices, hampering any socio-economic development or access to natural resources for the Palestinians. Area C is, however, pivotal for the realization of a Palestinian State. It constitutes 60 percent of the West Bank and contains the bulk of Palestinian agricultural and grazing land, water sources and underground reservoirs. It is also the only space available for the expansion of Palestinian population centres and infrastructure, and thus forms the backbone of territorial contiguity in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority has been remarkably successful in building Palestinian public institutions. Palestinian institutions have the required capacity to exercise state functions, but Israeli-imposed economic restrictions continue to constrain sustainable economic growth.
Palestinian institutions have achieved a level above the threshold for a functioning state in key sectors such as revenue and expenditure management, economic development, service delivery and security and justice. In recent years, illiteracy has almost been eliminated. There is a high standard of health care. Key planning and governance systems are in place. The West Bank has become a safer place under the rule of law, primarily thanks to security and judiciary trainings and reforms.