The Palestinian Territories constitute the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, two separate, unconnected areas under Palestinian control. Gaza is ruled with an iron fist by the hard-line Islamist militia Hamas. The West Bank is under the control of Fatah, a more moderate secular organization. The two organizations are violently opposed to each other; they have experienced a civil war in Gaza in 2007, in which Fatah was defeated.
The political future of these territories is uncertain, as negotiations over a final status agreement with Israel, intended to result eventually in the establishment of an independent Palestinian entity, have stalled because of years of violence and terrorism.
A number of sticking points have made a peaceful solution elusive. Palestinians regard Jerusalem, or at least its eastern half, as their future capital, but for Israelis the united city is the capital of Israel and has been the focal point of Jewish identity and worship for thousands of years, and therefore this remains the most perplexing issue on the negotiations agenda.
In the meantime, the territories are subject in part to Israeli security controls. Travel to the Palestinian Territories is not recommended at this time because of the security situation, although Bethlehem is usually feasible. The U.S. Department of State continues to issue a travel warning urging American citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
This dangerous situation is unfortunate, as there are many biblical and historical sites on the West Bank, and a completely undeveloped seafront offers future tourism potential in Gaza. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and Jericho, possibly the oldest inhabited city on Earth, are both located on the West Bank. The Tomb of the Patriarchs is located in the Gaza Strip in Hebron, a city known for its lush grape vineyards, pottery and glassware. And there's also Ramallah, "The Bride of Palestine," which hosts many dance and folklore festivals during the summer.
Israel staged a unilateral withdrawal of civilians and military forces from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, and as a result that area is under total Palestinian control by Hamas. Palestinian towns on the West Bank are under Palestinian civilian control by Fatah; however, Israel retains overall security control there. Territorial sovereignty on the West Bank remains contested, and the area is pockmarked by both Palestinian towns and Israeli settlements. At this point it is nearly impossible to foresee a politically negotiated solution acceptable to both sides that will resolve the ongoing violent conflict.
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