Israel and PA push for control of West Bank's Area C via land registration

“These are the critical years in which the fate of the territory is being determined.”

A general view picture shows the Israeli settlement of Efrat (L) in the Gush Etzion settlement block as Bethlehem is seen in the background, January 28, 2020 (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A general view picture shows the Israeli settlement of Efrat (L) in the Gush Etzion settlement block as Bethlehem is seen in the background, January 28, 2020
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
The Israeli Right has sought to solidify its hold on the West Bank’s Area C through a formal property registration process, which they have pressed the IDF to execute, partly to oppose the Palestinian Authority’s registration of the same territory, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was told on Monday.
“These are the critical years in which the fate of the territory is being determined,” said MK Tzvi Hauser (Derech Eretz), the committee chairman.
“The public has not been told the truth. The government of Israel is neglecting its national interests. It is a historic crime,” and “a historic failure,” Hauser said, adding that “our children and grandchildren will ask, ‘what did they do?’”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) dismissed the idea that neglect had simply occurred.
“The prime minister and the defense minister have to take a decision. If a clear directive is given to preserve the territory, it will happen. This is an issue of policy, not neglect,” he said.
The 1990s Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three sections, Areas A, B and C. The Palestinian Authority governs Areas A and B, and these amount to 40% of the West Bank, and the remainder, Area C which is under Israeli military and civilian control, is where the settlements are located.
Politicians, settler leaders and IDF representatives told the committee that even though the PA has no jurisdiction in Area C, it has embarked on a process of property registration.
“There are surveyors from the PA, walking around in the center of Gush Etzion, at the Gush junction, and in the communities, who are marking the area to produce maps of their own on everything,” Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Neeman said.
“We call on the relevant parties not to wait and to quickly register the lands in Judea and Samaria,” he added.
Representatives from the Civil Administration and the Custodian of Abandoned Properties said that the IDF had a staff of some 25 people who dealt with property registration, while the PA had allocated 500-600 staff to handle the issue, including in Area C.  
Hauser said he was stunned by the discrepancy with respect to those numbers. “This is the face of the battle for Area C, 25 people, when the PA has 600 people. This is what the Israeli bluff looks like,” he said.
IDF representatives explained to the committee that land registrations in Area C rested mainly on declarations of land being state land, or initial property registrations that mark only the start of the bureaucratic process, but not its conclusion.
Survey work by the IDF has helped to provide information, but was not enough to complete the land registration process, they explained.
To date, the bulk of the completed registration was done during the British Mandate period until 1948 and by Jordan, when it ruled the West Bank between 1948-1967. During those 19 years it registered land, even though its West Bank rule was not recognized by the international community, which considered it an occupying force.
THE BRITISH and the Jordanians registered some 30-33 percent of what is now Area C, but the ownership status of the rest is tenuous, because the process was never completed, the IDF representatives explained.
They noted that Israel had not continued Jordan’s work and had not engaged in full property registration.
The Defense Ministry’s legal adviser on settlement issues, Moshe Frucht, said “a declaration is meaningless,” because it isn’t a complete process and is subject to appeal. But he said there was no legal restriction to embark on such a process.
An attorney for the right-wing Shiloh Forum said that now that it was clear that Israel intended to retain Judea and Samaria, it was important to complete the property registration process, noting that the prolonged time period made it difficult to ascertain ownership.
He explained that the fact that Jordan could register the property when its rule of the West Bank had no international standing, meant that Israel could do the same.
Attorney Roni Pelli from the left-wing NGO the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said there was no comparison between Jordan’s actions and what Israel was contemplating. Jordan registered property to serve the residents of the West Bank, who, at the time, were all Palestinians. Israel wants to register the land so that it can ascertain settler and state ownership, she said, and this is problematic under international law. She noted that the move came alongside the Civil Administration’s refusal to issue building permits, or allow Palestinian development in Area C.
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz said the issue of land could only be resolved through a final status arrangement for two states.
“I hope the next US administration will stop this dangerous process,” he said.