Friday, May 14, 2021

Israel / Palestine Map: Who Controls What in May 2021?

This article was originally published in July 2020, but has been revised and updated to May 2021. The accompanying map has also been revised for clarity, but there have been no changes to territorial control since the previous edition.

Map of who controls Palestine and Israel's claimed territories today (May 14, 2021), as Gaza Strip violence continues to escalate? Israeli and Palestinian Authority administration (Fatah and Hamas factions indicated separately). Also file under: Palestine controlled area map. Includes bigger West Bank map (Areas A, B, C). Map also includes Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, major cities and Israeli settlements, UN peacekeeper deployments (UNIFIL and UNDOF), no man's land, Golan Heights buffer zone (area of separation, AOS), and Shebaa Farms. Colorblind accessible.
Click to enlarge. Map by Evan Centanni, incorporating base map by Koen Adams of and data from B'Tselem's interactive mapping project. (Contact us for permission to use this map.)

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Israel and Palestine Controlled Areas

The Israeli government's much-hyped plan to annex (absorb) parts of the Palestine-claimed West Bank into Israel last July never came to pass, but the region is once again making headlines amid a new wave of fighting. So who actually controls what parts of Palestine and Israel's claimed territories? This newly-revised version of PolGeoNow's Israel/Palestine control map lays out the details of government jurisdictions on the ground. And if you see something you don't understand on the map, check below for our concise outline of the disputed regions and conflict actors involved, which has also been updated and slightly expanded since first published last year.

Note that this is a map of who actually controls what, not of who claims which areas. And it's definitely not supposed to imply that any particular party should or shouldn't control any particular area. As always, PolGeoNow takes no side in these disputes, and we have done our best to report only the facts.

Flag of Israel Country Name:  
• Israel (English)
Yisra'el (Hebrew)
ʼIsrāʼīl (Arabic)
Full Declared Name:  
• State of Israel (English) 
• Medinat Yisra'el (Hebrew)
Dawlat ʼIsrāʼīl (Arabic)
• Jerusalem (functioning but disputed)

Conflict Actors

The State of Israel

Israel is a United Nations (UN) member country, officially recognized as independent by at least 164 of the 195 UN member and observer countries (84%). It was founded by Jewish people in 1948 to reclaim their historic homeland and defend themselves against any future replay of the holocaust, which had ended just three years earlier. Israel's own law defines it as a "Jewish and democratic" country, but doesn't specify any official government religion.

Israel has been part of many armed conflicts since its foundation, first with neighboring Arab countries and later with organizations representing (non-Jewish) Arab residents of the areas it controls, who have come to be called Palestinians (for more on the meanings of the words Arab and Palestinian, see the "Territorial Zones" section below).

Much of Israel's current territory has been under its control since the 1947-1949 war surrounding its declaration of independence. Since another war with Jordan, Syria, and Egypt in 1967, Israel has also controlled the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights, all of which are still claimed by other governments today.

The Palestinian Authority and the State of Palestine

Arabs trying to form their own country in the area founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964, and in 1988 declared independence as the State of Palestine, even though they didn't control any territory at the time. The State of Palestine now claims only the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and is currently recognized as independent by 139 of the 195 UN member and observer countries (71%). It's not a UN member itself, but it is treated as a UN observer country in the same way as Vatican City. The people it represents are mostly Muslims and Christians, but it has no official religion.

Flag of Palestine Claimed Country Name:  
• Palestine (English)
Filasṭīn (Arabic)
Full Declared Name:  
• State of Palestine (English)
• Dawlat Filasṭin (Arabic)
• Jerusalem (claimed; not controlled)
Ramallah (administrative; Fatah faction)
• Gaza City (administrative; Hamas faction)
Since the Oslo Accords of 1995, parts of the West Bank (including most cities) and the Gaza Strip have been administered by the Palestinian Authority (PA), a government created for the territories in agreement with Israel. The PA is officially separate from the PLO, but has historically been led by the same people. The PA is responsible for internal governance of the territories and relations with Israel, while the PLO is responsible for most foreign relations.

However, since a 2007 civil war, the PA's legislature has been non-functioning and its leadership has been divided into two factions that control separate territories:

The political party and former rebel group known as Fatah has held the chair of the PLO since 1969, coming to represent the mainstream of the Palestinian independence movement. Fatah's official ideology involves social democracy and secularism (the idea that government should be separate from religion). It supports the idea that Israel and Palestine should exist alongside each other as equal independent countries, in what's known as a "two-state solution".

Formed as an anti-Israel rebel group in 1987, Hamas is known for its extra-hardline stance against Israel, claiming the whole region for Arab Palestinians and refusing to even consider Israel a real country. Unlike Fatah, Hamas's ideology is based around Islam, the most common religion among Palestinians, and is fairly conservative in that regard. Hamas has not accepted the Oslo Accords, and because of its continued attacks on civilian targets in Israel, it's categorized as a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the European Union, and several more countries (though the designation is controversial, and has also been rejected by a variety of other countries).

Despite Fatah's historical dominance of the PLO, it lost its majority in the PA legislature to members of Hamas (see below) in a 2006 election. Fatah then mostly refused to cooperate with the new Hamas-led government, which was cut off from international aid for refusing to accept Israel's existence or previous agreements, and by 2007 the rift led to an all-out civil war between the two parties. Since the end of that war, Fatah's leadership has governed the PA's West Bank territories by decree, and been mostly shut out of the Gaza Strip. Hamas, on the other hand, became the Gaza Strip's sole government and was shut out of politics in the West Bank.

United Nations Peacekeeping Forces

UN peacekeepers aren't directly involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but they have been deployed to help maintain ceasefires between Israel and the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Syria. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has patrolled southern Lebanon in various capacities since 1978, now in cooperation with the Lebanese military.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has maintained a buffer zone between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights since 1974, though it now reluctantly shares parts of the zone with the Syrian military, which entered three years ago to drive out Syrian rebels who occupied parts it during the Syrian Civil War.

Neither of these two UN forces patrols any areas claimed as part of Israel or Palestine, except maybe some tiny disputed areas along the unofficially-marked border with Lebanon.

Territorial Zones

The justifications for creating countries of Israel and Palestine both go back to a 1947 UN plan to divide the area into a Jewish country and an Arab country. At that time, the whole area was known as "Palestine" (before the term "Palestinians" came to be used only for Arabs), and had been under temporary UK control since the Ottoman Empire gave it up at the end of World War I. 

What is an "Arab"?

Though it originally referred to members of the historical tribes of Arabia, in modern times the word "Arab" means almost anyone whose native language is Arabic.

Unlike the Jewish people, who are united more by shared religious heritage than by everyday language, Arabs can be of any religion. That said, a large majority of them are Muslims, with Christians coming in second.

Though Arabs dominate the Muslim heartland of the Middle East, today more than half the world's Muslims are not Arabs, with over a billion speaking other languages - such as Malay, Urdu, Bengali, Persian, Hausa, and Turkish - rather than Arabic.

On the other hand, some Arabic-speaking minority groups with distinct cultures prefer not to call themselves Arabs, since they don't fit as easily into mainstream Arab society. That's especially the case for Arabic-speaking Jewish people, who have become particularly isolated from an Arab world that has mostly rallied against Israel - and often against Jews in general - to support the Palestinian independence cause.
However, the UN plan was never formally implemented, and the proposed borders ended up being replaced with a somewhat different set of ceasefire lines after a 1947-1949 war between supporters of Jewish independence and neighboring Arab countries. Another war in 1967 left Israel in control of the whole area, as well as the Golan Heights, which up to then had been part of Syria.

Waters and Airspace

When we said that the above map shows territorial control "on the ground", we meant that literally. All airspace that could be claimed by either Israel or Palestine is currently controlled by Israel, including the skies over the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Similarly, Israel exercises authority in all Israeli/Palestinian waters. That includes both the West Bank's chunk of the Dead Sea and the parts of the Mediterranean Sea that could be considered the territorial waters and exclusive economic zone of the Gaza Strip.

The one partial exception is the Gaza Strip "fishing zone", which Israeli forces mostly stay out of except for occasional raids and pursuits. The catch is that Israel's military decides where the boundaries of the zone lie, and changes them frequently - often shrinking the zone or closing it altogether as retaliation for Hamas attacks elsewhere in Gaza.

The Hamas government of the Gaza Strip, for its part, maintains a military presence along the coastline but typically isn't thought to venture out into the waters of the zone - making the sea area a bit of a military "no man's land" used only by civilian fishermen. 

(Thanks go to staff at Gaza advocacy groups Gisha and Al Mezan for helping confirm some of the above details to us. PolGeoNow does not take a side in the Gaza Strip situation or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but our research requires us to incorporate carefully-vetted information from whichever sources are available.)

Israel Proper

The area on the Israeli side of the pre-1967 ceasefire lines (shown as dotted white lines on our map) is considered part of Israel by almost everyone who accepts that Israel should exist at all. In other words, that means the part of the Israel/Palestine area excluding the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights.

In Israeli law, the country of Israel technically only includes this part plus the East Jerusalem zone, which was controversially absorbed into Israel after being capturing from Jordan in 1967 (see "East Jerusalem" below). Israel also applies all its laws to the part of the Golan Heights it controls (see "The Golan Heights" below), but the 1981 law that established that situation technically avoided saying that the Golan Heights was "part of Israel".

In general, anyone born in the undisputed parts of Israel, in East Jerusalem, or in the Golan Heights is eligible for Israeli citizenship, whether or not they're Jewish. In fact there are many Arabs - who may or may not call themselves "Palestinians" - that are citizens of Israel because their families remained within these areas after Israel's government assumed control there.

The Palestinian Territories

The areas Israel captured from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 war - the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - are no longer claimed by those countries. However, they are now claimed by the self-declared State of Palestine, which calls them the "occupied Palestinian territories". Israel officially considers their status to be unresolved, arguing that it has just as much right to claim them as the Palestinians do. Except for East Jerusalem, Israeli law doesn't consider the Palestinian territories to be technically part of Israel at this time.

People born in these territories don't get Israeli citizenship unless they're eligible for some other reason (like having an Israeli parent). Controversially, that means Jewish settlers in the territories generally have Israeli citizenship, while Palestinians living there can't get it - even if they live in a fully Israeli-controlled zone.

The West Bank

The "West Bank", named for being on the west side of the Jordan River, refers to the area east of the 1949 ceasefire lines between Israel and Jordan (taking into account some small modifications that were agreed to between 1949 and 1967). Jordan controlled the area up until losing it in the 1967 war, and continued to claim it after that, but eventually gave up its claim after making peace with Israel.

The PLO, the UN, and many of the world's countries consider East Jerusalem to be part of the West Bank, but Israel doesn't (see "East Jerusalem" below). The Israeli government sometimes uses the term "Judea and Samaria Area" to refer to the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem.

Starting from 1995, the Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three main control zones, designed to be temporary but still more or less in place today:

Area A
In this zone, which includes almost all Arab-majority cities in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority was - in theory - given full control over both civilian administration and security. Originally, Israeli military forces weren't allowed to enter, but since an upsurge of violence in the early 2000s, which it considered to be a violation of the Accords, Israel has sometimes launched military missions into Area A. PolGeoNow hasn't found any information on the Israeli military physically occupying any part of Area A, but some observers argue that Palestinian forces there still can't do much without Israeli approval. (Area A is marked on the above map in dark blue, as "Palestinian Authority: Fatah faction".)

Area B
In this zone, the Palestinian Authority is still the main civilian government, but the Israeli military is allowed to maintain a presence alongside Palestinian forces. (Area B is marked on the above map in light blue-green, as "Israeli military and Fatah".)

Area C
In the rest of the West Bank, the Oslo Accords specified that the Israeli military would continue ruling by decree as it previously had in the whole territory (excluding East Jerusalem). The idea was that this would be a short-term solution, until details could be hammered out for Israel to accept the State of Palestine as a country and hand over control of the whole West Bank.

However, the negotiation process has repeatedly failed, and successive Israeli administrations have allowed Jewish-Israeli settlers to set up more and more new towns within Area C. Many of these towns are subject to laws identical to those in Israel proper, though technically the laws are applied by military decree, not by virtue of the towns being part of Israel. The towns labeled on our map as under Israeli military control are all "settlements" of this kind. There are Palestinian villages in Area C too, but none of them are as big as the biggest Jewish settlements. (Area C is shown on the above map in light green, as "Israel - Exclusive Control: Military government".)

Areas H1 and H2
The city of Hebron was originally intended to be part of Area A, but because there was a large number of Jewish settlers living in the eastern part of the city, the Israeli government refused to put that part under full Palestinian control. An agreement was eventually reached to divide the city into two zones: H1 would be under Palestinian control (similar to Area A), while H2 would be patrolled by Israeli security forces, with the PA only allowed to exercise civilian administration of Palestinians (most similar to Area C).

The Gaza Strip

A small but densely-populated coastal territory - captured by Israel from Egypt in 1967 - is known as the Gaza Strip, after the name of its largest city. Egypt no longer claims the strip as its own, but the PLO does consider it part of the State of Palestine, since it's populated almost entirely by Arabs and was never part of Israel proper. While the Gaza Strip was once divided between Palestinian and Israeli control like the West Bank, Israel pulled out completely in 2005, leaving it under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction.

The 2007 civil war between Palestinian factions was fought in the Gaza Strip, with the Hamas faction completely seizing the territory from Fatah's forces. Because Hamas refuses to accept Israel's existence or end attacks against Israeli targets, and Israel considers it to be a terrorist group, Israel and now-ally Egypt have maintained a blockade of the Gaza Strip ever since, strictly controlling who and what crosses its boundaries, and sometimes even closing all entries and exits completely.

Although the Gaza Strip is almost entirely under Hamas governance, the Israeli military actually does control a narrow 100-300 meter buffer zone just inside the territory's boundary with Israel proper.

Learn More: Detailed map of the Gaza Strip, including buffer zone and border crossings

East Jerusalem

Israel and the PLO each consider Jerusalem to be their own national capital, though with the city under full Israeli control since 1967, the Palestinian Authority government is currently based in Ramallah. After capturing the West Bank from Jordan, Israel expanded the city limits of its Jerusalem municipality to include not only the eastern part of the city center (including the historic Old City), but also a large area of the city's eastern suburbs.

Israel has treated this area, now all known as "East Jerusalem", as being within its borders ever since then. Although no law was ever passed explicitly saying that the territory was being added to Israel, Israeli courts have ruled that it is indeed considered part of the country (that is, it's been "annexed" to Israel). However, the PLO still considers East Jerusalem to be rightfully part of Palestine, and most of the world's countries agree in principle that it's part of the disputed West Bank.

See Also: Is Jerusalem the Capital of Israel or Not?

"No Man's Land"

There's a strip of territory along the western edge of the West Bank that was controlled by neither Israel nor Jordan from 1949 to 1967, giving it the nickname "no man's land". After 1967, it was taken over by Israel, which doesn't consider it part of the West Bank. The Israeli town of Maccabim was later established within it.

This has led to accusations that Israel has basically annexed the territory, absorbing it into Israel proper. However, Israeli courts have ruled that it's still not technically part of Israel, and that only some Israeli laws apply there. Many other countries also consider it to be Israeli-occupied territory of unresolved status, just like the West Bank, or even just call it Palestinian territory.

There are also some small pieces of former "no man's land" within Jerusalem (not clearly pictured on map), but they're now treated as part of East Jerusalem, making them fully part of Israel under Israeli law - and just a footnote within the bigger East Jerusalem dispute.

The Golan Heights

Israel's third major disputed territory, the Golan Heights, is not claimed as part of Palestine and not considered part of the Palestinian territories. Instead, the Syrian government claims the Golan Heights as part of Syria, since that's undisputedly what it was until Israel captured it in the 1967 war. And unlike Jordan and Egypt, Syria has still never signed any peace agreement with Israel since that war.

A buffer zone patrolled by UN peacekeepers (UNDOF) separates the Syrian- and Israeli-controlled sides of the Golan, though the Syrian army is now present within the zone too as part of the Syrian Civil War. But everything west of the buffer zone has been essentially absorbed into Israel since 1981 legislation extended all Israeli laws into the territory. That said, the law didn't actually say the area was becoming part of Israel, so some argue that it's technically outside the country ("not annexed").

Some areas at the western edge of the Golan Heights were designated as demilitarized zones along the hostile Israeli-Syrian border from 1949 to 1967, leaving their current status a bit unclear. The map attached to the 1981 law, for its part, seems to imply they were already part of Israel by that time.

Shebaa Farms

A small slice of land on the northern side of the Golan Heights, known as Shebaa Farms, is sometimes claimed to be part of Lebanon. But Israel and Syria each treat it as part of their own claimed territory in the Golan Heights, and it's controlled by Israel.

Interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict? To see more coverage, view all Israel or Palestine articles on PolGeoNow.