Palestinians put out more West Bank flags

The outlines of the Oslo pact are gradually being realised, writes Patrick Cockburn in Jerusalem

By the end of this year the Palestinian flag will fly over six cities in the West Bank with a combined population of more than 300,000. Israeli troops will pull back from places they captured in 1967 and fought for in the intifada, probably never to return.

The general principles of the 1993 Oslo accord are gradually turning into reality on the ground, though distrust on both sides is producing a chequer-board of conflicting jurisdictions. Many Palestinians fear they are being confined to isolated Bantustans, while Israelis fear the autonomous areas will be havens for suicide bombers and Islamic militant gunmen.

After talks to be completed by 25 July, the shape of Israeli redeployment is becoming clear. The senior PLO negotiator, Abu Alaa, says Israeli troops will start to pull out from the cities a month after the agreement is signed and complete their withdrawal 22 to 25 days before the Palestinian elections.

The date for the election of a Palestinian council has yet to be agreed, although it is likely to be in November. Israel wants it to number 50 members, to make it look more like a local authority, while the Palestinians want 100 representatives, to emphasise its claim to be a legislature. There is also disagreement about whether people from Jerusalem can vote in the city or stand in the elections for the council.

Palestinians are conscious of what they are not getting. Out of the 5,600 square kilometres of the West Bank, Israel is withdrawing from little more than 200 sq km. "Given Israeli demands on security, water, settlements and Jerusalem, there is not much left for us," said Khalil Toufakji, a Palestinian geographer. Under present plans, said Khalili Shikaki, a political scientist, "the map of the West Bank is going to look ridiculous".

But the shift in power is greater than is evident from the lines drawn on the map. The Palestinians' greatest strength on the ground is that they number more than 1 million on the West Bank, while there are only 140,000 Jewish settlers. Since the start of the intifada in 1987, it has been evident that, even with full geographical control, Israeli rule could only be exerted by force. With six of the main Palestinian cities under control of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, the PLO chief, will effectively control the 450 villages and towns where a majority of the Palestinians on the West Bank live.

Where will this leave the settlers? Their presence has been one of the chief impediments to redeployment. In two cities, Bethlehem and Ramallah, there will be Israeli-PLO patrols until bypass roads are completed for the settlers. Elsewhere, across the West Bank, bulldozers are cutting new roads to allow, for instance, settlers from the north to bypass Nablus.

Hebron is a special case. It was the slaughter of 29 worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque in the city by Baruch Goldstein, a settler from nearby Kiryat Arba, early last year which first soured the post-Oslo optimism. But the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, said: "We will not prevent 80,000 to 100,000 Palestinians [in Hebron] from voting in elections because of 415 Israelis."

Another massacre is still quite possible as the settlers feel the ground shifting under their feet, but militant settlers are thinner on the ground than would appear from the figures. Daoud Khuttab, a Palestinian commentator, says "many settlements are like hotel bedrooms. People go there to sleep, but they work and do everything else in Israel."

The greatest Palestinian fear is that they will find checkpoints choking access to their towns and cities. Their standard of living will decline if they are cut off from their agricultural hinterland.

Hisham Awartani, head of the department of economics at An Najah university in Nablus, said: "I keep telling people not to be surprised as they were in Gaza and Jericho. If there are checkpoints so people cannot enter the city, it will spell disaster to Nablus."

He said that when he visits Jericho, which gained autonomy last year, he has to pass through two checkpoints: "I wouldn't shop there."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own