Are Resources a Crux of Conflict in the West Bank?

Note: this op-ed does not reflect the views or political stance of the Center for Development and Strategy. CDS is strictly a non-partisan, non-profit think tank solely dedicated to the thought, research, and discovery of solutions for decision-makers.

By David Harary

Amidst U.N. Resolution 2334, tensions between the U.S. and Israel are at an all-time high under the Obama Administration. The defensive reaction from Israel has been swift, albeit rather expected from Netanyahu’s posture towards those who criticize him and his country. In all of this quandary, it’s worth evaluating one of the underlying causes of conflict as a result of Israeli settlements. Settlements in the West Bank in and of themselves aren’t conflict-inducing. Instead, it’s the propensity to which they are able to undermine the sovereignty of Palestinian resources that can bring about the motivation for conflict.

By constructing further settlements, it’s thought that Israel withholds Palestinian ownership of natural resources within their proximity. These include the vital water supplies and agricultural land that supports the ability for Palestinians to develop economically. The backbone of a sustained and secure society is personal empowerment and opportunity. Without the ability to entrepreneur and cultivate their land, Israel may be constraining the viability of a prosperous Palestinian state.

In 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Israeli companies are entitled to exploit the natural resources found in the West Bank. Two years later, a World Bank report found that if Israel were to provide Palestinians access to the lands and resources of Area C, it would increase their GDP by over $3.5 billion, or 35%. In essence, the report argues that construction of settlements in the West Bank combined with Israeli control over these areas deny Palestinians their capacity to extract this value.

Instead, achieving peace is a more comprehensive process

How can this contribute to conflict? To start off, competition over scarce resources is known to be a major incendiary component of conflict. Israel is no stranger to this as it has a long history of fighting over scarce natural resources itself. For example, Arab states convened in 1964 to divert 35% of Israel’s water supplies towards Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. A series of skirmishes broke out in the years following along the border of the Golan Heights. Had Israel not gained vital intelligence on the construction of Syria’s water infrastructure, it may not have achieved such a dramatic victory in 1967’s Six-Day War.

Ironically it’s now Israel that controls some of the most resource abundant lands, including the Golan Heights. Through the construction of new settlements in the West bank, Israel can further escalate conflict by taking over land and resources Palestinians claim as their own. This is not conducive towards peace. Instead it can contribute to the growing anti-Semitism Israelis witness in the form of terrorist attacks.

This is not to say there aren’t other hurdles the two sides have to overcome. Growing extremism from the Palestinian side has been an unfortunate reality. With a weak and corrupt government, many of these issues are internal for Palestinians and can’t be solved by Israel alone.

Instead, achieving peace is a more comprehensive process. In net, both Israelis and Palestinians have a long way to go. Overall, the construction of further settlements may only help fuel the conflict. Until Palestinians are able to develop in a sustainable manner, this process will perhaps continue to be long and arduous.

David Harary is the Board Chair of the Center for Development and Strategy in Washington, D.C. He is currently completing a Fellowship with the Climate and Security Advisory Group, which is chaired by the Center for Climate and Security and comprised of over 200 national security experts from the U.S. defense and climate science communities. Harary’s research is multidisciplinary and covers ground in human security, intelligence, sustainability, trade, and space. His latest writing has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Slate, The Jerusalem Post, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s New Security Beat, the Harvard Kennedy School Review and The Times of Israel with journal articles appearing in the Journal of Science Policy and Governance, Inquiries Journal and Cornell International Affairs Review. He holds an M.Sc. in Sustainability Management from the University of Toronto’s Institute for Management and Innovation and a B.A. in Economics and Geography and International Trade from the State University of New York at Buffalo.