THE LANDSCAPE OF AN AGREEMENT: THE ROLE OF REGIONAL LANDSCAPE AND TERRITORIAL AGRICULTURE IN A FUTURE PEACE AGREEMENT BETWEEN PALESTINE AND ISRAEL.
Uri Reicher1, Matanya Sack 2
1 s--r _ shelter expanse
2 s--r _ shelter expanse, Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning _ Technion _ Studio LandBasics
The research delineates a spatial notion of regional landscape, which is integral to complex urban-rural areas such as the West Bank. The analysis addresses territorial agriculture, nature reserves, religious landscapes, expanse and horizon - as a central geopolitical platform in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
We initially examine regional landscape in the context of a future prosperous Palestine, as a trigger for balanced growth, and as part of a rural and regional urbanism. Israeli proposed annexations are challenged on this basis.
Following this, we examine Israel’s land swap policy, proposing a limitation on the area of land that can be given, and in turn annexed. Next, we consider religious agriculture and landscape as part of the Israeli settlement, and propose to focus on Israel’s affinity with heritage landscapes, instead of annexing designated "settlements without landscape". Finally, we show the drastic effect the settlement of the mountain had on Israeli culture and society. We suggest that Israel should rebuild “a culture of the plain”.
Regional landscapes directly affect vast populations. Understanding and defining their role is critical to the discipline of landscape architecture, broadening its scope and responsibility.
Keywords: regional landscape, territorial agriculture, religious landscape, geopolitical landscape, spatial religion
Any future peace agreement between Israel and Palestine will require a territorial solution for agreed borders. Our applied research, used by key NGOs and thinktanks, proposes three foundations for discussing a solution: 1. Which territories in the West Bank can Israel annex to its 1949 Armistice line territory, while enhancing Palestine's potential for long-term prosperity? 2. Which territories within Israel's 1949 Armistice line can Palestine annex in return, as part of a "land swap"? 3. Which heritage territories in the West Bank should Israel maintain affinity with? The areas Israel intends to annex are also proposed as a territory where Israel can continue to build today. Thus the discourse is not only academic or diplomatic, but has a present, urgent, critical influence on any future agreement.
The West Bank comprises an integrative, regional urbanism: intertwining cities, traditional village clusters, agriculture, open spaces and infrastructure. The research delineates a spatial notion of regional landscape, which is especially integral to such complex urban-rural areas. Territorial agriculture and water, nature reserves, religious and historic landscapes, spatial religions, expanse and horizon - all have a central role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and in any future peace agreement. The following article will present the role of "regional landscape" and "territorial agriculture" within this context.
As a research and design studio integrating architecture, landscape and planning, we base our projects on a critical, methodological mapping of the lands and regions in which we work. It is accompanied by academic work at the LandBasics programme in the Technion, Haifa. Thus the context in which we were approached to conduct this study is that of advancing towards scenarios, proposals and an agreed solution.
The research presented here not only directly affects the issues discussed with practical planning proposals, but also illuminates adjacent subjects, such as the character of nature, expanse and horizon. In a time of extreme political transformations, landscape architecture should broaden its scope and responsibility. Regional landscapes directly affect vast populations, and should be planned as such - from a clear geopolitical stance, and towards a clear and effective design. We believe the lessons from this study are relevant worldwide. It is especially true for rural regions, and their critical importance in national planning today.
1. THE LANDSCAPE OF A PROSPEROUS PALESTINE
A stable, lasting and just peace is only possible between two countries with equal opportunities. It requires a prosperous Palestinian state, with a scope for long-term, balanced growth. One should not merely focus on the partial functioning of a given space today (as is often done to justify present settlement), but rather examine possible future development, in a variety of scenarios that at present cannot be predicted, in the long-term – 25, 50, 100 years from now, such as a village cluster growing into an integrated city, and the role of landscape in such a scenario.
Such a sovereign, sustainable, space is an expression of the Palestinians' right to national self-determination. It gives hope, confidence, and a clear territorial, sovereign identity. Landscape and open space have a central part in this.
1.1. Regional landscape directing balanced growth
[IMAGE 1a – Regional landscape as integral to growth – Palestinian proposed poly-centric network, nature sensitivity, and agriculture.]
The development layout required for the future Palestinian state is a balanced, distributed, polycentric development that is based on existing localities. It provides local growth opportunities to a variety of communities, allowing residents to reap the benefits of a peace agreement. Due to the regional landscape characteristics of the Judean Mountains and the Jordan Valley on the east, the main future development region are the western slopes of the West Bank. This is where the majority of the territories Israel wishes to annex are located, and should therefore be reconsidered.
1.2. Regional landscape directing areas for development
[IMAGE 2 – Landscape and development – Salfit, Wadi a-Sha’ri and Ariel.]
The regional landscape also affects the delineations of land reserves for development on a regional-urban-rural scale. As an example, Wadi a-Sha'ri, with steep topography and high landscape value, limits the development of Salfit northward, but this is where the Israeli settlement Ariel is located. It is perhaps the most controversial settlement which Israel proposes to annex. We suggest that it should be evacuated.
1.3. Regional landscape and “rural urbanism”
[IMAGE 3 – The landscape of a rural urbanism – Wadi Qana and surrounding villages, towns and settlements.]
The territories Israel proposes to annex also include open spaces which are integral to fulfilling the potential prosperity of Palestine. Wadi Qana, for example, is one of the most important agriculture heritage sites in the West Bank. Today, it is completely engulfed by Israeli settlements. The settlements and Wadi are considered by Israel as a territory for annexation. Our analysis suggests that these settlements should be evacuated, to bring Wadi Qana back into a broad, meaningful, continuous Palestinian sovereign territory.
1.4. Regional landscape as addressing a regional urbanism
[IMAGE 4 – The landscape of a regional urbanism – Beit al-Baraka, Beit Fajar, Beit Ummar.]
Settlements not only block open space of heritage value, and regional continuity value – such as Wadi Qana, but also open spaces which are integral to urban-rural regions. For example, Beit al-Baraka - a relatively recent settlement - cuts through the main open space and traditional agriculture site of an integrative, regional urbanism and landscape. It consists of the cities Beit Fajar, Beit Ummar, and surrounding villages, agriculture, and other open spaces – forming a functioning whole. These landscapes serve as the metropolitan parks of the regional city. With the expansion southward of Gush Etzyon via Beit Al-Baraka, the Beit Fajar and Beit Ummar regional landscape and urbanism is split. We therefore claim that this settlement cannot stay.
The characteristics of the landscape ultimately determine the characteristics of the society: continuity and proximity, size and width, components of heritage, agriculture, ecology – all affect social and economic relations, culture, communal growth, and so on. As the examples above show, the regional landscape is an integral part of the sovereign, broad, continuous territories required for a long-term growth of a prosperous Palestine. Any annexations by Israel should take this into consideration.
2. THE LANDSCAPE OF LAND SWAPS BETWEEN PALESTINE AND ISRAEL
[IMAGE 5 – The geopolitical landscape - land swaps in the Gaza perimeter and annexation in the West Bank.]
Any area Israel wishes to annex in the West Bank will have to be "swapped" for regional open spaces of the same size, quality and characteristics – mostly Israeli agricultural land of historical landscape value. The character and economy of the landscape - mainly its relationship with villages and the farmers which together form a regional rural system - directly affects the possibilities for swaps, and therefore the scenarios of a future agreement.
For example, if Israel is to annex all the land within the security barrier route, the land it will have to swap will engulf Israeli villages around Gaza, taking nearly all their agricultural land. This agriculture is important not only economically, but is embedded historically in the original Zionist ethos of Israel. As Ran Pauker, one of the founders of the Nir-Oz Kibbutz near Gaza, told us in an interview: “Of course for peace I would give the land that I cultivated for more than 50 years, but it’s a shame that its actually to swap for suburbs in the West Bank".
In contrast - we study the regional landscape required around Israeli villages and Kibbutzim around Gaza and the West Bank – keeping a continuous open expanse around them, connecting them, maintaining the “village in the fields” landscape – both economically and phenomenally (based on the work of Shaul Arieli and Dan Rotem). We then obtain a far smaller area possible for swap. Such an area significantly limits the amount of land Israel can annex in the West Bank.
The land swaps analysis goes hand in hand with the analysis of regional landscape required for a prosperous Palestine. The two converge to form a territorial scenario for a possible agreement. We thus see how an analysis and planning of regional landscape directly affects geopolitical possibilities, and the character of communities, such as the number of settler population Israel will need to evacuate.
3. THE LANDSCAPE OF ISRAELI SETTLEMENT
[IMAGE 1b – Regional landscape as settlement – Israeli agriculture, nature reserves, and heritage landscapes.]
3.1. Settlements without landscape
When discussing land swaps we saw what Israel within its 1949 borders loses from annexation. What, on the other hand, do settlers staying in the annexed areas, and Israel as a whole, actually gain? Not only do the blocks obstruct access of Palestinians to a disjointed landscape, they do the same to Israelis as well. The new border proposed by Israel, in the Annapolis negotiations or the security barrier for example, leaves annexed Jewish settlements isolated from their surroundings. What kind of a unique quality of life does an Ariel resident stand to gain from living there? Living in a “sleeping-suburb”, that resident is enclosed within a wall, and is unable to simply take a walk out in the surrounding landscape, as any resident of a similar locality does regularly. Ariel could therefore exist anywhere within the original borders of Israel.
3.2. Territorial, religious agriculture as settlement
Since most Israeli agriculture and declarations of national parks are outside the potential areas for annexation, their development is not necessarily aiming to promote areas for annexation in an agreement, but simply to obstruct the possibility for any agreement at all.
First, they are used by Israel to form political land continuities, blocking Palestinian development. Second and more important – Israeli use of territorial, religious agriculture and landscape presents a sort of "affinity with the land". As has been in the evacuation of Gaza settlements in 2005 - it is more complicated to "uproot" a farmer whose employment is the local land, or a settlement with heritage landscape, than evacuating a suburban settler, probably employed within the 1949 borders.
As is described in detail in the report “Kerem Navot” by Dror Etkes – Since 1997, after the Oslo accords (which divided the West Bank to Palestinian and Israeli controlled areas), there was a meaningful change in the character of Israeli agricultural expansion. Rather than secular, ideologically moderate, industrial-sized farms in the Jordan valley, most growth has been in extreme right-wing, religious fundamentalist settlements in the mountain ridge of the West Bank - where until that time, there was almost no agricultural activity but rather suburban settlements. This is part of an overall strategy of land grabs by extremist settler population, and it conforms with “back to earth” recent religious trends.
3.3. Territorial, religious landscape as settlement
Israeli development of landscapes of religious, archeological, scenic, and environmental values, is used to consolidate geopolitical continuities, blocking Palestinian future continuous sovereignty.
For example, in the same Wadi Qana where Palestinian agriculture is engulfed by Israeli settlements, Israel has declared a nature reserve. It is also justified religiously and historically, on biblical reference: “The border went out from Tappuah westward to the Brook Kanah, and it ended at the sea. This was the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Ephraim according to their families.” (Joshua 16:8 (NKJV)). Israeli inspectors then ordered the removal of newly planted 1400 olive trees by Palestinians, even though the landscape has historically been combined with vines and orchards (in a region where most fertile land has been cultivated or grazed for more than 3,000 years). Meanwhile, an Israeli illegal outpost in the reserve, called Alonei Shiloh and Nof Kanah (Landscape of Kanah) has not been ordered to evacuate.
3.4. Spatial religion
While there are famous Jewish religious buildings in the West Bank (such as the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb), most Jewish spatial heritage in the West Bank is embodied in the landscape – archeological, natural, agricultural, scenic, or simply the land as a whole. Most of the spatial heritage is located along the mountain ridge, away from the territories for annexation. Therefore, Israel’s insistence on these extensive territories for annexation, is in fact disconnecting it from its own historical, cultural and religious heritage. We suggest that instead of annexing settlements with almost no heritage value, Israel should propose arrangements that preserve access to sites and landscapes that the Jewish people have an actual affinity with - similar to arrangements other religions have with Israel within its 1949 borders.
To conclude, we propose an additional stage for geopolitical planning based also on regional landscape – First, consolidating the territories for annexation to areas that allow a regional landscape for a prosperous Palestinian state, with long term balanced growth. Second – land swaps that allow the conservation of Israeli regional landscapes within the 1949 armistice line. Third – designing an arrangement which enables Israel to maintain an affinity with historic and religious heritage landscapes in the West Bank. Such a solution – enhanced by our understanding of regional, territorial, religious landscape and agriculture - can promote a stable, sustainable agreement, and most importantly – a just and equitable peace.
4. THE PLAIN AND THE MOUNTAIN – BACK TO THE PLAIN
The conflict over the West Bank is a conflict for the mountain, between the Jordan valley and the coastal plain. It is a conflict for myth and land – landscape. Regional landscape has a cultural, mythical role in past and future divisions of the land.
The Zionist movement utilized agricultural settlement to form territorial continuity with a relatively small number of people, believing correctly that “The blade of the plough will determine the border”. Notably, land was acquired on the western coastal plain, rather than in the more historical area of the eastern mountain range (now the West Bank). It meant a distancing from the existing, relatively isolated “old” orthodox Jewish communities in the sacred cities of the mountains, in favor of getting closer to international trade routes via the Mediterranean port cities.
With the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the relationship to the regional landscape has drastically changed. To follow Fernand Braudel - from a culture of the plain to a culture of the mountain. From a modernist-humanistic-secular-ideological-socialist culture raising the view from the soil to the horizon (of the sea to the west) – to a post-modernist, religious, mythical, self-reflective, new-age, late-capitalist culture lowering the view back from the horizon to the soil (in the now controlled mountain).
Similar expansion from the plain to the mountain by regional landscape and territorial agriculture was administered also within the 1949 borders – such as a network of suburban "community towns" expanding from the valleys to the Hills of Galilee, and "individual farms" expanding from the northern Negev to the south, towards the Negev Mountain.
The Israeli agriculture of the plain, in “modernist” Zionism was that of the Green Revolution - large-scale, industrial agricultural landscape in which Israel was always at the forefront. Today however, the recent agriculture of the mountain settlements is “post-modernist” - with the idea of coming back to the soil – small "local" scale, organic, traditional, religious. For example – Gva’ot Olam – one of the most extremist, violent outpost in the West Bank – is also the largest organic egg farm in Israel. It sells most of its produce to left-leaning liberals in Tel Aviv, as part of vegan, local, traditional organic trends. This is not a coincidence. The liberal “back to the soil” is intertwined with the same attitude in the far right. We see this mythical, self-reflective, return to the soil, also in culinary art, garden design, architecture, festivals.
It is more than just following global cultural trends – The international, abstract ideologies once settled in the mountain became local, nationalistic, concrete. There couldn’t be another way. When the mountain is settled and controlled it is no longer an external, foreign, expanse. It is familiarized, internalized into the culture of the settlers. Thus there is no longer a view of the other, the foreigner. Everywhere the view has turned inward – art, politics, landscape architecture – since there is no longer an external expanse, an outward horizon to look at.
We should now decide what is the role of the fourth generation of settlement, relative to the landscapes of the plain and the mountain. The geopolitical, regional landscape characterizes, and makes, the society – a nationalistic, religious, inward-looking culture of the mountain, or a global, rational, liberal culture of the plain? For a just and fair land for all, the only way is to come back to the plain. To raise our view back from the soil to the horizon.
Palestinian open spaces -
Palestine National Spatial Plan, (2015). Protection Plan for Natural Resources and Archeological Sites - Northern Governorates. Ramallah: Palestine National Spatial Plan, Map.
Palestinian development -
Palestine Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, (1998). The Regional Plan for the West Bank Governorates. Ramallah: Palestine Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, pp. 1-124.
Israeli settlements and open spaces -
Peace Now, s--r, (2017). Settlements Map 2017. Peace Now [online]. Available at: [Accessed 16/5/17].
Palestinian agriculture -
ARIJ – Applied Research Institute Jerusalem, (2008). Agriculture Maps. ARIJ [online]. Available at: [Accessed 14/10/15].
Israeli-controlled agriculture -
Etkes, Dror (2013). Kerem Navot - Israeli Settlers’ Agriculture as a Means of Land Takeover in the West Bank. [online]. Kerem Navot, p. 39. Available at: [Accessed 17/5/2018].
Arieli, Col. Res. Dr Shaul and Rothem, Dan (2016). Maps of Lands Swaps. Shaul Arieli [online]. Available at:
Palestinian population -
Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (2012). Population by locality. Available at: [Accessed 14/10/15].
Israeli population -
Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (2015). Population by locality. Available at: [Accessed 14/10/15].
History of settlement -
Sack, Matanya (2018). Agriculture as Settlement: Territorial Agriculture in Israel. In: Israel Lessons - Industrial Arcadia. laba EPFL. Park Books, pp. 19-25.
Analysis, maps, and images by s--r – Uri Reicher, Matanya Sack, Gagu Eshet, Lior Lachman, Tamar Salinger, Dor Schreier, Shlomit Wartenburg.