An international furor erupted when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that if he won the election he would assert Israeli sovereignty over parts of Area C where the Oslo Accords already grants Israel full administrative control. This hysteria was magnified by the usual assertions that Jewish settlements in that and other areas of the West Bank are illegal.
Meanwhile, the world was silent when the Palestinian Authority announced it planned to unilaterally violate the Accords by cancelling the division of the West Bank into Area A, B and C and treating the entire area as sovereign Palestinian territory (Jack Khoury, “Palestinian Authority Decides to End Division of West Bank Into Areas Set by Oslo Accords,” Haaretz, August 31, 2019).
Even before that announcement, the Palestinians were building their own settlements in Area C where any construction must be approved by Israel according to the agreements they signed.
New towns established by the Palestinians in the West Bank should be referred to as “settlements” and condemned with the same ferocity of critics of Israeli construction for creating “facts on the ground.”
The West Bank is disputed territory; the Palestinians have no sovereign rights there today nor have they had any in the past which justifies the expansion of their communities. Those who constantly bemoan the disappearing two-state solution and unilateral actions should be outraged by the brazen Palestinian efforts to predetermine the border of any possible state by their own illegal building in areas that Israelis have equal right to claim as their own.
The Palestinian campaign of creeping annexation has continued unabated for decades with little media attention and no international condemnation. Take, for example, the roughly 4.6 square mile area referred to as E-1, which Israel has long-planned to annex. Originally formulated by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin just months before his assassination, the plan is to populate the valley between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, which Palestinians agree will be part of Israel in any future agreement. This “settlement” of more than 40,000 people is essentially a suburb just three miles outside the capital. Critics claim the E-1 project would cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and doom a two-state solution (Adam Chandler, “On The Reactions To Israel’s E-1 Plan,” Tablet, December 3, 2012).
Every few years, the Israeli prime minister announces his intention to complete the plan. Usually, within days, he backtracks under pressure from the United States (see, for example, Akiva Novick, “Netanyahu delays E1 construction plans,” Ynet, January 4, 2013). The plan remains on the drawing board, and much of the infrastructure is already in place, but the project remains in limbo.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians have been furiously building without opposition from abroad to prevent E-1 from being completed. The EU illegally finances hundreds of structures in the Adumim area (“Illegal EU Building In Adumim Region,” Regavim, February 6, 2015).
In one controversial case, Italy began to openly support the illegal Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Ahmar, including by moving the residents from tents to new structures, and building a school for all the Bedouins in the vicinity. The site is located near E-1 expressly to block Israel’s plans for the area. Israel’s Supreme Court approved the demolition of the illegal structures and the relocation of the Bedouins; however, international protests and the Israeli elections in 2019 have delayed carrying out the decision.
This is just one area where the Palestinians are trying to predetermine the borders of any future Palestinian state. During the last five years, illegal settlements and infrastructure have spread across 250 Area C locations occupying more than 2,000 acres. While the international community and media criticize Israel’s actions in the territories, and the UN is called to condemn Israel for approving even a handful of new units in existing communities, no one complains about the roughly 10,000 illegal Palestinian construction projects.
Investigative journalist Edwin Black has documented how the European Union is collaborating with the Palestinian Authority to establish these facts on the ground. “European countries, individually, and through the EU,” Black says, “have pumped hundreds of millions of euros annually into scores of illegal state-building and related projects – called Area C ‘interventions’” (Edwin Black, Who’s Funding Illegal Palestinian Settlements in Area C – Nearly 10,000 Cases,” Jewish News Service, August 15, 2019).
People who ordinarily would be concerned about water and other environmental issues have turned a blind eye to the Palestinian building projects, which Black notes, “are not natural Arab urban growth or urban sprawl.” He says they are intentionally meant to “carve up Area C, sometimes surround Jewish villages, and sometimes push onto Israeli nature or military reserves.”
The PA is now offering incentives, such as tax exemptions, discounts for vehicle registration, and jobs for those who settle in Area C (Yaakov Eliraz, “Israel needs to wake up: The PA is taking over Area C,” Jewish News Service, July 28, 2019). While Israel is pilloried anytime it suggests moving Bedouin from their encampments to another location or permanent housing, nothing is said about the PA’s efforts to do the same.
Palestinians have complained about the slow process of obtaining building permits from the Civil Administration and the high rate of rejection. Black notes, however, “that the number of applications has dropped significantly because the Palestinians now “deny Israel’s right to issue them” and “just start building.”
Israel’s efforts to stop the illegal construction are also hamstrung by the courts. Many people are unaware that despite lacking citizenship, Palestinians can petition to Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court, and do so with the help of well-funded NGOs. A military spokesman told Black, “It can take years to decide, and without a court ruling, we cannot get close…. Meanwhile, they are still building. We can’t do anything about it.” If the court ultimately rules in Israel’s favor, the government is denounced by critics for demolishing the illegal structures.
One other troubling aspect of the Europeans’ funding is their reluctance to look carefully at the organizations they are funding to build up Area C, which often support the antisemitic BDS movement and have connections to terror organizations. Black reports, for example, that European governments have funded the Union of Agricultural Work Committees which is linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation Palestine (Edwin Black, “Who’s funding illegal Palestinian settlements in Area C? Links to terrorists,” JNS, August 21, 2019).
Consider the impact on the peace process of the European-backed activities by the PA. By building settlements, the Palestinians are trying to prevent Israel from creating a contiguous area for its future borders, exactly what Israel’s critics accuse it of doing. The Palestinians often complain that a future state would look like Swiss cheese because of the geographic distribution of Jewish communities, but they are creating the holes themselves by establishing isolated settlements separated from the main population centers and nearer Jewish towns. Furthermore, by claiming sovereignty in Area C, the Palestinians have violated the Oslo Accords, further undermining Israeli confidence they can be trusted to honor the terms of any future agreement.