Since a decision in January 2012, the European Union has committed to the expansion of illegal Palestinian settlement in Area C in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority, disregarding the Oslo agreements, which the EU officially upholds. The aim is to create continuous Palestinian settlement throughout Judea and Samaria and indirectly isolate and strangle Israeli settlement.
For the first time in the 100-year-old conflict between the Zionist movement (and later the State of Israel), the Palestinians under the auspices of the PA and the EU, are surpassing the former in strategic settlement, over which the Zionist movement once enjoyed a monopoly.
Like many offensives in history, the EU’s decision to battle Israel over control of Area C in Judea and Samaria was done clandestinely. While the report titled “Area C and Palestinian State Building” bore the date July 2011, it was only five months later, on December 14, that it was brought to the European Parliament. It was then approved by the European Commission in early January 2012. During that time, excerpts of the report were leaked to The Independent, a British daily known for its strident anti-Israeli stance.
In April 2012, the PA’s Ministry of Local Government (MoLG) published a strategic action plan titled “Planning Support for Palestinian Communities in Area C.” The EU announced its support for this plan in an official document published in 2012 called “Land Development and Access to Basic Infrastructure in Area C.” By 2016, the European community had spent a total of 10.5 million euros to draw up and implement zoning plans for 90 Palestinian communities and support land development projects in Area C in conjunction with the MoLG.
Such aid is hardly envisioned as only helping marginalized communities, but as part of a blueprint to help achieve Palestinian state-building. These plans for solitary communities, the report noted, “will be linked in a broader planning exercise that aims at clustering the communities and developing regional plans,” a project currently supported by the EU and the UK. This clustering process is in itself linked to another arm of the PA, the Palestinian Ministry of Planning and Administrative Development, which “is moreover engaged in the development of a National Spatial Plan, which will include the entire Area C.”
THE JOINT PA-EC strategy to undermine Israeli jurisdiction in Area C focuses on two areas: 1) the narrow cross-section between Pisgat Ze’ev and Anata (a stone’s throw away from the Light Rail depot on the northern side of the Jerusalem-Jericho highway) to Abu-Dis and Eizaria, three kilometers southward as well as land on both sides of the highway parallel to Ma’aleh Adumim all the way down to Jericho, and 2) the southern Hebron hills that overlook Israel’s southern population belt stretching from Beersheba to Arad. The PA’s and EU’s major objective is clear: to create continuous Arab settlement from the south to the north of the West Bank, while simultaneously thwarting Israeli designs to create continuous settlement from Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem, known as the E-1 plan.
To date, the PA’s achievements have been considerable. As new Israeli building dwindles into insignificance in areas east of Jerusalem, the PA with the help of the EC have succeeded in housing tens of thousands (120,000 according to advocate Sarin Alian from the Israeli Association of Human Rights) in a space no larger than nine square kilometers. This number is more than double the number of inhabitants of Ma’aleh Adumim and the other Israeli localities in the area.
Most live in Ras al-Khamis and Ras al-Shakhada that dwarf the older village of Anata, home place to the prophet Jeremiah from Anatot, located just beyond the French Hill junction, north of route 60 to Jericho and just one kilometer from the junction. Umm Ishak al-Kaluti, in a write-up on a Palestinian media site, exclaims how 10 years previous (in 2015), she owned one of the few homes on this once barren hill. Most of the area is within the official municipal line and thus formally under Israeli sovereignty. The remainder is Area C, which presumably Israel controls. Yet, hundreds of six-10 story apartment buildings were built, all of which are illegal, as a senior officer in the Border Police in charge of security in the area told this writer.
Palestinian strategic settlement in the area comes at the expense of the quality of life of the new residents of these two sprawling developments. Jamil Sanduqa, head of the makeshift local council of Ras al-Khamis, which is funded by the PA and the EU, acknowledges these neighborhoods are an ecological disaster. Sanduqa characterizes living there “life imprisonment.”
The only road that traverses this vast urban expanse is just two lanes wide. It is continuously clogged all the way to the 24-hour outpost manned by the Border Police that allows passage into Jerusalem. Fire trucks would find it impossible to reach the scene in the event of an even small emergency such as fire from an electric short circuit or an explosion of gas balloons – most of which are illegally placed – let alone an earthquake.
Garbage burns in the open with devastating health effects on its inhabitants as well as on neighboring Isawiya and French Hill neighborhood. This is also true of al-Zaim, a smaller version of Ras al-Khamis just two kilometers south, which is designated as being in Area B. In al-Zaim, illegal building is taking place toward the highway in violation of international conventions that stipulate mandatory distances between the building line and major arteries of traffic.
From Ma’aleh Adumim eastward, the PA and the EU have identified makeshift Bedouin encampments, the most prominent being al-Khan al-Akhmar, as the chief weapon to transform Area C into the would-be Palestinian state. These fast-growing encampments are close to a major highway, bereft of sewage systems and organized garbage disposal. The Israeli authorities have leveled an area just south of Abu Dis that would provide all these amenities, yet the PA and the EU continue to abet Bedouin encampments.
After years of adjudication, the High Court of Justice ruled that the encampment supported by EU budgets and the school it erected for the children of the squatters were entirely new and therefore illegal. Israel, however, bowing to international pressure, has refrained from removing it.
Less in public view but no less important are the southern Hebron Hills. Strategically, the Hebron Hills dominate the city of Beersheba and immediately west of it, Israel’s largest air force base. Demographically, concentrated Palestinian settlement in the southern Hebron Hills would create a continuity of Arab settlement stretching from Gaza, through the Arad-Beersheba axis populated almost exclusively by Israeli former nomads. Regavim, the underfunded organization that monitors illegal Palestinian building in Area C, has documented the building of more than 28,000 buildings and houses in the past decade.
A massive Israeli settlement drive is urgently needed to underscore the historical Jewish connection to Judea and Samaria, the recognition of that by the Palestinians being a necessary prerequisite to peace.
The writer is senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.