The Palestinian Authority built an unapproved school in the Hamam al Maliakh hot springs, reported Regavim, a right-wing organization dedicated to preserving Israel's land and resources, on Sunday. The structure is located in the Jordan Valley's Bazak Nature Reserve, which falls under the Israeli jurisdiction of Area C.
The 1990s Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three sections, areas A, B and C. While the Palestinian Authority governs areas A and B, amounting to 40% of the West Bank, the remainder, Area C, is under the control of the IDF and the Israeli government.
Although the PA has no jurisdiction in Area C, it has continued to request property registrations there. Most requests for building permits are not approved by Israel's Civil Administration. Likewise, the structure – funded by the European Union – had not received legal approval from the Israeli government.
Regavim's appeal to the Civil Authority, that the school's illegal status be addressed and the building be demolished, has been ignored.
"The PA builds, the EU funds, and the State of Israel ignores," Regavim said in frustration.
This is not the first unauthorized school to be built on disputed territory. In January 2020, another illegal school was discovered in Area C and was destroyed by the Civil Authority.
“The school that was demolished today was one more example of the European Union's support for the Palestinian Authority's carefully orchestrated program of land seizure in Area C, using the most vulnerable populations as pawns,” said Naomi Khan, Director of Regavim's international division.
According to the group and right-wing politicians, these schools and other unapproved structures in Area C are part of the Palestinian Authority's plan to establish a Palestinian presence in the region and prevent Israel's sovereignty in the West Bank.
The EU has funded many other illegal Palestinian projects in Area C in recent years, built without IDF approval. This construction is part of a 2012 PA plan to create Palestinian contiguity in the area, surrounding and isolating Israeli settlements.
The EU announced its support for the plan in a document called “Land Development and Access to Basic Infrastructure in Area C.” These “social infrastructure projects” include funding for schools, roads, multipurpose buildings, reservoirs, etc. in 15 localities in Area C to benefit more than 24,000 Palestinians.
IN RESPONSE to the EU's monetary support of these illegal developments, Yamina head Naftali Bennett declared early last year that he was embarking on a battle for Area C of the West Bank to ensure that it remains in Israel's hands.
“In cooperation with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, we are mobilizing in full force for the battle against the hostile takeover of Area C,” Community Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said of the initiative.
“The regional and local councils in Judea and Samaria will receive a dedicated budget to assemble effective and determined systems to thwart the Palestinian Authority’s stated plan to establish facts on the ground, in violation of the law and the agreements it signed with Israel,” he detailed.
Part of Bennett's initiative included the establishment of an additional seven West Bank public land nature reserves. The preserves were intended to both encourage Israeli tourism in the area and protect the land.
"The declaration of nature reserves is intended to protect unique and threatened ecosystems and areas of particular natural beauty, to protect the biodiversity and fauna of the Land of Israel, and to maintain open spaces," Kahn told The Jerusalem Post.
"The fact that European governments and the EU are complicit in destroying the ecology and landscape in the service of the Palestinian annexation of Judea and Samaria is all the more outrageous given that one of the EU’s foundational principles is environmental protection," she added.
However, left-wing authorities and the EU continue to see Israel's crackdown on illegal Palestinian developments in Area C as the country's own attempt at a land grab.
Amit Gilutz, spokesman for the left-wing group B’tselem, said that “Israel’s planning and building policy is designed to suffocate Palestinian development on their land.
“First, as a matter of policy, Israel does not grant Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank building permits," he said. "Then, when they build in spite of this reality – since having a roof above your head is a necessity – Israel issues demolition orders and often demolishes their homes, schools, community centers and other structures.”
Khaled Abu Toameh, Lahav Yarkov and Omri Nahmias contributed to this report.