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Palestine is among the oldest continuously inhabited regions in the world and has been coveted or dominated by almost every civilization of the eastern Mediterranean.

Modern Palestine now denotes the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank. According to the original terms of the 1947 U.N. partition plan of Mandate Palestine, the territories were to constitute a unified, independent Arab state. But Palestinian Arabs and neighboring Arab countries fiercely opposed the terms of the partition plan and attacked the nascent Jewish State of Israel. Over the years, some positive initiatives have advanced, but little real progress toward peace with justice has been made.

Demographics. Generally, accurate population statistics throughout most of the Middle East are difficult to ascertain due to the lack of census data. In Palestine, the movement of peoples — despite security efforts to the contrary — makes it more difficult. Here are some reasonable estimates gleaned from a variety of sources: Palestine’s total population is around four million people. Gaza’s 1.5 million people are almost entirely Arab Sunni Muslims, but around 4,000 Christians remain. The West Bank is more diverse. Three-quarters of its 2.5 million inhabitants are Arab Sunni Muslims. Jewish settlers, who dominate strategic areas of the West Bank, account for 17 percent of the population. At most, 50,000 Arab Christians — less than 2 percent — live there, principally in and around Bethlehem and Ramallah.

Sociopolitical situation. The Palestinian territories do not enjoy statehood, though there are some elements of self-governance. The Palestine Liberation Organization is recognized as the representative authority of the Palestinian people and has observer status at the United Nations. The Oslo Accords in 1993 established the Palestinian Authority as the territories’ governing body, vesting it with some degree of control over internal security and civilian-related matters. Currently, the Palestinian Authority “controls” only the West Bank.

Israeli-imposed restrictions on right of entry and exit, as well as movement within the West Bank, have isolated and fragmented Palestinian society. Israeli authorities exercise full civil and military control of 61 percent of the West Bank and the 150,000 Palestinians who live in that area. Classified as a high-risk area by international humanitarian organizations, it lacks safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities and is afflicted by high poverty and unemployment rates. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 10 percent of the West Bank will fall on the Israeli side of the separation barrier once it is complete.

After winning the parliamentary elections in January 2006, Hamas assumed complete control of Gaza. Conflict between Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in June 2007 effectively severed ties between the two Palestinian territories.

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Tags: Middle East Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Emigration