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Israel to permit 5 Palestinian cities in the West Bank to expand into Area C

June 17, 2017 4:35 P.M. (Updated: June 19, 2017 7:35 P.M.)
Palestinians are largely permitted to build or develop in the majority of the West Bank, known as Area C (AFP/Hazem Bader, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities notified the Palestinian Authority (PA) that five Palestinian cities -- Ramallah, Hebron, Tulkarem, Jenin, and Qalqiliya -- will be permitted to expand into Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli control, Israeli media reported on Friday.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Palestinian citizen of Israel and member of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament Ahmad Tibi said Thursday night that the cities, all considered Area A of the West Bank -- under full PA control -- would be permitted to expand into Area C, which is under full Israeli military control according to the Oslo Accords.

A spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, was not immediately available to comment on the new plans.

The reported plans to expand Palestinian development in Area C stemmed from an agreement made between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli officials, reportedly as a result of US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region last month, to rescind some of Israel’s control in Area C, as one of several steps aimed at easing the economic situation for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

On Wednesday, reports emerged that the Israeli army has intended to expand the municipal boundaries of Qalqiliya city, which would see 14,000 new homes planned for Palestinians in Area C.

However, the new measures, seen as a slight easing of repressive policies that have restricted Palestinian development for some two decades following the Oslo Accords, were denounced by settlers and right-wing Israeli politicians.

Ultra-right Knesset members Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, both members of the Jewish Home Party, released a joint statement on Thursday condemning the plan for its disregard of “Israeli interests” in the West Bank.

The statement reportedly said that the two opposed the “carrot and stick plan,” referring to a policy advanced by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman whereby harsher punishment would be imposed upon families and villages from which "terrorists" originate, while economic benefits would be granted to areas that "have not produced terrorists."

The statement added that such a policy “ensures the Palestinian takeover of Area C.”

The Oslo agreements in 1995 between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israeli authorities divided the West Bank into three sections: areas A, B, and C. Area A, comprising the populated Palestinian cities and making up 18 percent of the West Bank, would be controlled by the newly formed PA, while Area B remained under Israeli army control with the PA controlling civil affairs.

Area C, the majority of the West Bank, however, was placed under full Israeli military control and contains the majority of natural resources and open spaces in the Palestinian territory. The Israeli-controlled land was expected to be gradually transferred to the PA over a five-year period, according to the Oslo agreements.

Yet, almost two decades later, the land has remained under Israeli control.

Area C, along with East Jerusalem -- considered the capital of any future Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution -- has been the site of rapid Israeli settlement expansions, while Israel’s separation wall has further divided Palestinian communities and has restricted Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from even visiting what was intended to be their capital.

In 2016 alone, Israeli forces demolished 1,093 Palestinian homes across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, displacing 1,601 Palestinians mostly under the pretext of lacking nearly impossible to obtain Israeli-issued building permits in Area C and East Jerusalem.

At least 417 Palestinians have already been displaced since the start of this year as a result of Israeli demolitions, according to UN documentation. Palestinian authorities have claimed that the new agreement with Israeli officials would curb these routine demolitions of Palestinian homes in Area C.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem reported that in 2016 Palestinians experienced the highest number of Israeli demolitions since the group began recording the incidents. At the same time, settlement watchdog Peace now reported that Israel’s illegal settlement construction in the West Bank increased by 34 percent in 2016, with Israeli authorities initiating construction on 1,814 new settler housing units.

In recent weeks, Israeli authorities have announced plans to advance approximately 2,500 new Israeli housing units in the occupied Palestinian territory, including 102 housing units in Amichai, Israel’s first new official settlement in more than two decades.

NGO Peace Now estimated earlier this month that the number of settlement housing units promoted in the first half of 2017 was almost double that of all of 2016.

According to Palestinians and rights groups, Israel’s overall goal, both in its policies in Area C and Israel’s settlement enterprise, is to depopulate the land of its Palestinian residents and replace them with Jewish Israeli communities in order to manipulate population demographics in all of historic Palestine.

Such policies have been aimed at advancing the colonization of Palestinian land in a continuation of policies implemented since 1948, when Israel was established as a country in historic Palestine, according to rights groups.

Despite new measures being implemented by Israeli authorities to ease the policies of Israel's half-century occupation of the West Bank, Netanyahu reassured his settler support base last week that he has been "doing everything to protect the settlement enterprise," and that settlements would continue to expand in “all parts of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).”
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