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Palestinian Authority slams COGAT for ‘systemic colonial occupation’

Aug. 15, 2017 9:37 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 16, 2017 2:51 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority (PA) ministers’ cabinet denounced on Tuesday the Israeli Civil Administration, tasked with carrying out numerous Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, for its role in the half-century occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

The unusually strongly-worded criticism comes as the PA announced in July that it had suspended security coordination with Israel in the wake of a deadly shoot-out at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound that led to increased Israeli security measures at the holy site.

Despite Israel removing the new security measures after nearly two weeks of large-scale Palestinian protests, the PA said in late July that it was maintaining the coordination freeze.

According to a statement issued following the weekly PA cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Israeli government has recently issued a plan to “double the number of civilian employees within the occupation's Civil Administration.”

"The Civil Administration, according to the (Oslo Accords), was supposed to be dissolved years ago in accordance with signed agreements,” the statement read.

However, the statement added, Israel has proven that "this occupation-affiliated administration is...enlarging its jurisdiction and attempting to open direct channels between the administration and the Palestinian citizens and business people."

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah slammed the Civil Administration for "continuing the systemic and large-scale (Israeli) colonial occupation of the land of Palestine" and undermining the Palestinian Authority through illegal practices and policies.

A spokesperson for the Israeli Civil Administration told Ma'an that an "increase in the Civil Administrations manpower, as well as its adjustment to the populations needs and the existing challenges, is being examined," while claiming that the move has "no connection to the Palestinian Authority's activity."

Despite its name, the Israeli Civil Administration is in fact a branch of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli military agency responsible for enforcing Israeli government policies in the occupied Palestinian territory.

COGAT liaises with Palestinian security forces as part of the controversial security coordination, through which the PA has allowed Israeli forces to conduct military operations in areas officially under full Palestinian jurisdiction, as well as funneling Palestinians into Israeli prisons as part of what has been denounced as a “revolving door policy.”

The Civil Administration is also responsible for approving or rejecting Palestinian and Israeli construction in Area C, a prerogative which has benefited illegal settlement construction in the West Bank to the detriment of Palestinian communities located in areas under full Israeli military control.

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.

The Civil Administration also typically coordinates with the PA over Palestinians seeking hard-to-obtain permits to enter or work in Israel.

The cabinet statement came a day after Palestinian officials spoke out against Israel distributing leaflets in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron calling on some Palestinians residents to directly appeal Israeli authorities to obtain lessened security restrictions.

Local officials slammed the Israeli move as an attempt to “circumvent” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to halt the PA’s contested security coordination policy with Israel.

“In accordance with the Oslo Accords, there are official Palestinian authorities specialized in liaising between Palestinians and Israel,” one official said, adding that the recent Israeli move was in contravention of the seminal agreement that led to the creation of the PA.

The ministers' cabinet went on to call the Civil Administration on Tuesday "the Israeli occupation's major arm" aiming to "consolidate the colonial system through illegal settlements."

By imposing policies effectively restricting Palestinians’ lives and livelihoods across the West Bank, the cabinet argued, Israel was “clearly” violating the Oslo Accords and one-sidedly withdrawing from agreements it signed with Palestinians in the 1990s.

The cabinet urged the international community and all countries that have sponsored agreements between Israelis and Palestinians to recognize that Israel has been thwarting international efforts to achieve peace in the region.

The cabinet stressed the necessity to "coerce Israel into adhering to legitimate international resolutions, recognizing the Palestinian people's inalienable rights, and materializing the sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the form of an independent Palestinian state on the territory occupied since 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital."

The Oslo agreements in 1995 between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israeli authorities divided the West Bank into three sections: Area 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 Accords.

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

In 2015, Abbas told the United Nations that Israel and the PA were not longer bound by the Oslo Accords due to repeated and sustained Israeli violations. However, the announcement did not change much on the ground at the time.
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