In the 1993 Oslo Accords, the State of Israel empowered the PLO to establish a Palestinian Authority to oversee autonomous Arab governance in parts of Judea and Samaria.
Despite the fact that, in practice, many of the Oslo Accords’ clauses were never activated and other elements are no longer relevant, the division of jurisdictional authority between Areas A (full Palestinian jurisdiction), B (PA civil control, Israeli security), and C (full Israeli jurisdiction), remains in force.
In 2009, Salam Fayyad, former prime minister of the PA, publicized his program for the unilateral creation of “an independent, fully autonomous Arab state on all of the territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as per the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.”
The Fayyad Plan is based on de facto annexation of Area C, with the underlying assumption that Areas A and B have already been “taken care of” by the Oslo Accords.
The implementation of this program of creeping annexation has been, and continues to be, carried out on two parallel tracks. The first involves cooperation with Israel: The PA submits requests to the relevant Israeli authorities for approval of “special priority” construction projects; generally, international funding for these projects is contingent upon a “seal of approval” from Israel.
Despite the often-repeated claims of anti-Zionist NGOs, many thousands of housing units and other building projects have been approved by the Israeli government for the Palestinian sector.
The second track, which is far more widespread, is the creation of facts on the ground, through extensive illegal construction and development, without coordination with Israel. The projects in this illegal track are planned and executed according to a very clear, systematic master plan that aims to create territorial contiguity for the future Palestinian state while disrupting the growth and contiguity of Israeli communities.
Over the past number of years, the illegal track has become not only more pronounced but more ingenious, using agricultural work to establish facts on the ground – in violation of the law in force in this region; in violation of the Oslo Accords, which stipulate that the State of Israel has sole jurisdiction over this territory; and in violation of international law.
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Although it was a partner to the Oslo Accords, in recent years the EU has actively funded many of the PA’s illegal activities in Area C, contributing to the projects that undermine the accords by taking unilateral steps to create a Palestinian state encompassing all of Judea and Samaria.
Since the publication of the Fayyad Plan, the EU has built more than 2,000 structures in Area C for the Palestinian population, creating or supporting dozens of illegal settlement clusters, without requesting or receiving construction permits or coordinating these projects with the relevant Israeli authorities. The flagship outpost of these projects is Khan al Ahmar.
Recently, the EU made a commitment to desist from further illegal building in Area C. But rather than abandon the goals of this illegal activity, the EU simply switched tactics.
The law in force in Area C of Judea and Samaria is comprised of many layers, including Ottoman law, Mandatory law, Jordanian law, military rule, international law, as well as legislative acts of Knesset. In general, however, the essential underpinnings of property law in Area C rest upon Ottoman law.
According to Ottoman law (and Israeli Supreme Court decisions that continue to enforce it), uncultivated land belongs to the sovereign – a principle known elsewhere as “eminent domain.” The case of administered territory is no different; the State of Israel has sole jurisdiction. Additionally, some of the land in Area C is classified as “survey land” – tracts that are not registered as privately owned, which the Israeli government is in the process of regulating and registering as state land.
However – and herein lies the rub – under Section 78 of the Ottoman Legal Code, a private individual may be granted rights akin to ownership of agricultural land if he has held and cultivated the land in question for a period of time (the precise length of time required is dictated by the nature of the land parcel in question).
Thus, a person who poaches land and uses it for agricultural purposes may claim ownership or other rights, simply by claiming to have worked the land for a relatively short period.
Activities carried out under the Roots Project exploit this loophole in Ottoman law to great advantage. To make matters worse, much of the so-called “agricultural projects” presently being carried out by the PA in Area C– erecting fences and walls, excavating with heavy machinery, creating roads and more – requires building permits, which have never been obtained.
In contrast, the regulations that require permits for work of this kind are meticulously enforced in the Jewish sector, through military orders issued by the commanding officer in the area.
The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) is the main operational arm of the agricultural front of the Fayyad Plan. Despite UAWC’s overt and covert ties to the Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization “PFLP – People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine;” despite UAWC’s active support for the BDS movement; and despite UAWC’s judicial, media, and diplomatic campaigns to prevent the IDF and the Civil Administration from acting against the illegal land seizures it carries out, the UAWC is funded, to the tune of millions, by direct and indirect donations from the EU, the UN, and the governments of France, Norway, Holland, and Germany. These same governments and organizations are among Israel’s most vocal critics.
In the course of monitoring PA/EU efforts to seize control of Area C, Regavim’s staff identified 247 new agricultural sites and 181 new roads, all of which we investigated and mapped out through meticulous analysis of aerial photos taken between 2013-2017.
We presented our findings to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s subcommittee on Judea and Samaria, along with practical and comprehensive recommendations for combating this threat.
The damage being caused by the “Roots Program” cannot be addressed as a case-bycase, localized problem. The only way to meet this challenge is with clear, decisive action on the part of policy makers, who must implement a comprehensive response that acknowledges the strategic dangers to Israel’s future.
Sadly, the State of Israel remains virtually absent from the scene of the crime. To date, no military, law enforcement, or diplomatic steps have been taken to prevent this de facto annexation, and the Civil Administration allows the Palestinians and their European co-conspirators to effectively seize more and more strategically vital land.
If the government of Israel does not come to its senses soon, the Roots Project, the PA’s master plan for overtaking Area C, will take root, and the facts it creates on the ground will be irreversible.
The writer is director of the International Division of Regavim, an NGO dedicated to the preservation of Israel’s land resources.
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