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“Palestinian Authority Only”: new Israeli stamp limits travel for tourists

Toufic Haddad | The Faster Times

6 August 2009

Palestinian Authority visa issued at Allenby crossing

Palestinian Authority visa issued at Allenby crossing

This is an image of a page from a French passport, whose owner recently went through the Allenby Bridge border crossing between Jordan and the Israeli occupied West Bank. It shows an Israeli-issued stamp that provides the passport owner with a three-month tourism visa. What makes this stamp unique however is that the Israeli border agents who issued it appear to have come up with a new criteria regarding the freedom of movement of its holder.

The presence of “Palestinian Authority only” on the stamp is what makes it unique.

Previous Israeli-issued tourism visas do not restrict the freedom of movement of tourists who are allowed passage into the country, and who originate from countries which Israel has diplomatic relations and reciprocal arrangements regarding travel. That meaning, as long as someone was allowed into the country, they were able to travel freely whether they chose to visit the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, or the Palestinian city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank.

“Palestinian Authority only” greatly restricts this freedom of movement, and thus undoes the former arrangement. It essentially precludes travel to areas of pre-1967 Israel, as well as to Israeli controlled areas in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Israel exercises full control over 59 percent of the West Bank – areas known as “Area C.”

It further exercises security control over an additional 24 percent of the West Bank (Area B) with the Palestinian Authority [PA] in control of civil affairs there.

The only area which the PA nominally controls in full, and which a holder of this stamp is thus presumably eligible to travel to, is Area A. The latter comprises the remaining 17 percent of the West Bank.

Area A however is not composed of one territorial unit, but is divided into thirteen non-contiguous areas.

Furthermore, the Israeli army routinely invades Area As, to arrest Palestinians, making a mockery of Palestinian control there.

The fragmentation of PA jurisdiction in the West Bank has invited comparisons to the Bantustans of Apartheid South Africa. Bantustans were false states set up by the white apartheid regime as a means to enforce the segregationist nature of apartheid, controlling the primarily black population, while disenfranchising them particularly with regards to expropriating their land and resources.

In a recent speech, John Dugard, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, made the comparison directly. Dugard, who is South African and a professor of international law noted:

“Are there Bantustans in the West Bank? And I think the answer to this question is yes. We do see territorial fragmentation of the kind that the South African government promoted in terms of its Bantustan policy. We see, first of all, a very clear separation being made between the West Bank and Gaza. But within the West Bank itself, we see a separation to essentially three or more territories and some additional enclaves with a center, north and south. And it’s quite clear that the Israeli government would like to see the Palestinian Authority as a kind of Bantustan puppet regime.”

Israel’s travel restrictions to PA areas are somewhat contradictory. Visitors can seemingly travel to Area As but must do so by crossing Israeli controlled areas (Area C). This means that visitors have the right to hop between different Area A ‘islands’, but can’t be caught in between.

Moreover, the very restriction on travel is equivalent to a country issuing a visa to a specific area of its country, but not to the whole country. A parallel might be the U.S. issuing a visa only to majority-black Harlem in Manhattan, or the Mashantucket Pequot reservation in Connecticut.

This happens to violate the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (also known as “Oslo II” or “Taba”) which states that “Tourists to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from countries having diplomatic relations with Israel, who have passed through an international crossing, will not be required to pass any additional entry control before entry into Israel.” (Annex 1, Article IX “Movement Into, Within and Outside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” 2 (e))

As far as I am aware, this stamp has begun to be issued within the last month, and no Palestinian or international body, official or grassroots, has identified or spoken publicly of the phenomenon, whose scope is also not known.

The stamp has also been issued to at least one American citizen, as the below image taken from a U.S. passport attests.

one week Palestinian Authority visa issued at Allenby crossing

one week Palestinian Authority visa issued at Allenby crossing

In this case, the visitor was only issued a one-week visa to PA areas, affirming that Israel also has the power to determine not only the areas visitors go to, but also the time period they spend there.

Though it is not clear why Israel decided to issue this new kind of visa, certain things can be discerned by assessing Israel’s overall policies towards Palestinians, as well as towards those who seek to visit the areas in which they live.

Israel wishes to strictly regulate travel of visitors who come to the country, especially those curious to see the West Bank. Though it is likely to justify its regulation to PA areas only, under security pretexts, this doesn’t really stand up because in order to get to a PA area, you would need to travel through an Israeli controlled area. Even if this visa ensures that Israeli security cannot be breached in pre-1967 Israel, there is nothing preventing the breaching of security in Israeli controlled areas of the West Bank, including areas of Israeli settlements, and settlement by-pass roads, which Jewish settlers and the Israeli occupation army use.

A more likely justification can be found elsewhere. Israel is issuing a visa for a jurisdictional area (the “Palestinian Authority areas”), that the nominal jurisdictional power (the Palestinian Authority) does not control or issue itself. It would seem logical that the Palestinian Authority issues visas for its areas itself. But the PA does not have that power, and Israel is taking the initiative to do so on its behalf, but without PA consent.

The repercussions of this are multifold. “Palestinian Authority areas” become ‘hardened’ as a territorial and jurisdictional unit, when previously these areas were only intended to be temporary areas of jurisdiction, that would eventually form the basis of a future Palestinian state, to be negotiated between Israel and the PLO. Hence, without the need to negotiate the latter, and to gain agreement from the PA for the actual borders of its state-to-be, (and all that entails with regards to sovereignty), Israel is de facto transforming and elevating a pre-existent jurisdictional arrangement, into a de facto border between itself and the areas the Palestinian Authority “controls.” In sum, Israel appears to be issuing a visa for a Bantustan-like state, that is yet to be declared officially, but which de facto is being created by such bureaucratic measures.