Likud leadership candidate Gideon Sa’ar visited this week in the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar and called on the government to implement its decision to demolish this community that has been in its place for decades.
Sa’ar further called on the government to “prevent the continued Palestinian takeover of land in area C. Wow! Area C for those who don’t know or don’t remember is the land in the West Bank which, since the Oslo Interim Agreement of September 1995, is under full Israeli control. Area C is 62% of the land in the West Bank. All of the Israeli settlements are located in area C.
In the Oslo agreement, Israel and the PLO agreed that for a period of five years the West Bank would be divided into three designated areas. Area A, about 20% of the West Bank is the land of the main Palestinian cities and is under Palestinian Authority civil and security control. Area B are the lands in the built up areas of the rural villages, also representing about 20% of the land. Area B is under Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control.
The interim agreement was supposed to end in 1999. These designations are almost meaningless, because since the Second Intifada Israel essentially has full control of it all, allowing the Palestinian Authority to take care of the burdens of day to day governance, but in truth Israel does whatever it wants all over the West Bank – in areas A, B and C.
According to the Oslo agreement even prior to entering into permanent status negotiations, which were to begin no later than the beginning of the third year, Israel was supposed to withdraw and transfer all of the land of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, except for those lands connected to permanent status – meaning the Israeli settlements and “specified military locations,” meaning IDF bases and posts.
In other words, the PA should have been in control of more than 90% of the land in the West Bank even before 1999. The Palestinians are not trying to “take over” land in area C, the land in area C belongs to the Palestinians and not to Israel. Israel even agreed to that in signing the Oslo agreements. But like much of those agreements (six of them) many of the most significant elements were not implemented, and both sides engaged in systemic breaching of their own commitments. Nineteen years after what was supposed to be the end of the interim period, there is no permanent status agreement in site and no negotiations between the sides anywhere on the horizons.
Most Israelis today probably believe that Israel holds sovereignty at least over area C in the West Bank. Nothing is further from the truth. Israel is not sovereign and does not own the most of the land. In fact, most of the land of the West Bank is privately owned Palestinian land.
IF THE WAR in 1967 did not happen and Jordan continued to occupy that land, it would have progressed with the land registration process that it began in 1966, which would have organized and recognized the private ownership of most of the land. This is a very complex issue that began during the Ottoman period when people registered their lands in the local land registry with a local leader, rather than with the Turkish authorities, in order to avoid mandatory military service of 25 years in the Ottoman army and heavy taxes paid to Constantinople.
Area C lands are the only reserves for the development of the Palestinian economy. The continued prevention by Israel to allow Palestinians to build on their privately owned land in area C is the most significant obstacle to genuine Palestinian economic growth.
In my efforts to develop solar energy projects in the West Bank, we have encountered repeated Israeli rejections to use lands that we were prepared to lease in area C. These are the only areas in the Palestinian territories where significant utility-scale solar energy projects can be feasibly developed. And until now, Israel has prevented these projects from becoming a reality.
The development of solar energy projects in Palestine is not only a Palestinian interest that would bring millions of dollars of investment into the economy, it is also an Israeli interest that would decrease Palestinian dependence on Israel’s overburdened electricity network. It is also in the interest of everyone in the region and in the world to develop more renewable energy instead of continuing to use polluting fossil fuels for electricity.
If the Palestinians had the ability to use their own land in area C for solar energy, within a few years they could easily reach 50% and more of their electricity needs during daylight hours. It is insane that Israel prevents them from doing so. It is simply a matter of control and another very clear expression of one word: occupation.
Gideon Sa’ar and Benjamin Netanyahu, and everyone who has ruled this land since Netanyahu first came to power in 1997, continue to demonstrate that they have no intention of ever allowing the Palestinians to have their freedom and independence. They continue to force the Palestinians to be dependent on Israel. They continue to demonstrate that their corrupt deal with the gas tycoons continues to force Israelis and Palestinians to burn fossil fuels (gas is a fossil fuel) at the expense of all of the people and against our public health and well-being.
This is just one more reason why Israel needs a regime change and the people of Israel need to be liberated from 51 years of occupation and control over the Palestinian people.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.