Illegal Outposts: Creating Facts on the Ground, Who Cares?
I find it ironic that one month after Prime Minister Netanyahu lost the premiership the Likud tabled a bill to extend Israeli law (solely in order to embarrass the new PM Naftali Bennett) over the Jordan Valley and parts of Area C in Judea & Samaria when they did nothing over the 12 years they were in power and potentially could have actually made it happen. Instead, Bibi ignored changes on the ground that threatened, throughout his terms in office, the very sovereignty he says he supports. I am referring to all the illegal outposts popping up throughout Area C in Judea & Samaria, the land over which Israel has both administrative and security jurisdiction as agreed upon by the representatives of Israel and the PLO in a signed contract commonly recognized as the Oslo Accords.
A Bit of Background
What is essential to keep in mind is that the international community, including the UN, recognized Judea and Samaria as being part of the Jewish national homeland from the year 1920. There has been no other recognized sovereign of this territory since the Ottoman Empire. In spite of that, and in spite of having liberated the land from the Jordanian occupation of 1948-67, in a defensive war (the 6-Day War), Israel hesitated to declare sovereignty in the hope that they could offer “land for peace”. It is also important to keep in mind that Jordan had ethnically cleansed the entire region of Jews, a region that had supported ancient and recent (pre-1948) Jewish village and agricultural communities.
In the attempt to exchange “land for peace”, Israel engaged in the talks that led to the Oslo Accords. The division of the land and the allocations of respective responsibilities to the PA and Israel was all agreed upon and made official in this agreement, signed by Arafat, on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs, and Peres and Rabin, on behalf of Israel. This very fact, plus the international recognition of the territory as having been part of the Jewish national homeland as described above, means that Israel is not occupying Judea & Samaria. One may have criticisms about how Israel is behaving in carrying out its responsibilities but it is still not an occupation of any form.
These disputed territories in Judea & Samaria were divided into three parts called Areas A, B, and C. The first two areas comprise Arab population centers of various sizes and their hinterlands. Area C is where all the current Jewish communities are situated. Of course, pre-existing Jewish villages and agricultural communities existed on land designated today as under the total or partial control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as what is now Area C.
In Area C, there are a few small Arab villages whereas there are no Jewish communities in Areas A or B. This confusing state of affairs is clearly explained here, an article dedicated to making sense out of the division of land and responsibilities between the PA and Israel in Judea & Samaria.
The Issue of Building Permits
In spite of the fact that they have no jurisdiction there, the PA is engaged in a very vigourous establishment and expansion of illegal Arab settlements and outposts within Area C. Remember, building permits to accomodate their growing population need to be considered only within the regions over which the PA does have civil administrative control — i.e., in Areas A and B. The PA gets a sympathetic hearing from those who do not understand the situation when they complain that they just MUST build in Area C because there is no place to build in Areas A or B.
Regavim, the nongovernment organization that continuously surveys land-use activities and land grabs by the PA in Area C, has done the research that proves this to be a lie. In their report published in 2019, they show that 70% of the land area covered by Areas A and B are undeveloped, contradicting the claim that they have no room on which to grow.
Given that there are legal Arab villages in Area C, the only Arab population sites that apply to the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) for construction permits are those very villages. And it is reasonable to assume, since Israel is not committing genocide, that there is natural population growth requiring increased housing for the next generation of families. If Israel is maliciously denying these permits, then it is fair to criticize Israel. But where illegal building is going on to accomodate the growing population within legal Area C Arab villages, this is a problem that must be resolved just as it would be in any other country. Some of these villages are bordered on at least one side by land in Area B so that if the PA was willing to grant them building licenses this could easily accommodate their needs but instead, the village builds illegally on Area C land outside the boundaries of their villages. (I wonder what would happen if they built in the Area B lands bordering their villages without getting building permits.)
The current Defence Minister, Benjamin Gantz, has just announced his intention to grant permits to Arab villages in Area C amounting to about 900 units. Whether or not these permit are justified is beyond the topic of this article because the most glaring problem is the fact that the PA, with EU assistance, is stealing land across Area C where there were no people living until they set up their illegal outposts.
PA Land Grabs Across Area C
By creating these illegal new outposts, the PA is underhandedly grabbing control over more and more dunams of Area C, land which Arafat recognized as Israeli (even if only until the final negotiated agreement) when he signed the Oslo Accords.
Just as they have for legal Arab villages in Area C, the PA assumes jurisdiction over daily life in every new “village”, a term applied to any new groups of tents with a water tank together with a name for a place that never before existed. They are illegally popping up in Area C (i.e., new enclaves are being created) and this is in clear contradiction to the Oslo Accords as stipulated by Ambassador Baker in a conversation with me for a separate article:
Any change can only come about as a result of agreement between the two sides, or as a result of a declaration that the [1995 Israeli-Palestinian] Interim Agreement is void and no longer binding, in which case each side would be free to do what it wants.
In other words, this unilateral violation of the Accords by the PA could provide legitimacy for unilateral action on the part of Israel, such as declaring Israeli law over Area C. Unfortunately, we can observe how Israel is not very good at protecting its sovereignty even within the universally accepted borders of the country — i.e., against illegal building by Bedouin in the Negev. There is little confidence, therefore, that the country would protect its land in Judea & Samaria any better than they are doing now even if sovereignty over these lands was finally declared.
The PA has not been shy about announcing their intentions, openly having published these intentions in the Fayyad Plan. Of all their lofty goals of establishing law and order, democracy, freedom of speech and much more, the only thing they seem to actually be achieving is laying the groundwork for continguity among Arab population centers including laying down roads without permits and digging illegal wells, both of which directly breach the terms of the Oslo Accord contract signed with Israel. According to Regavim they are doing everything they possibly can to steal land in Area C away from Israel. And they are aided and abetted in that by the European Union (EU) whose symbol can be found on caravans and other constructions erected in these illegal outposts.
All of this is a de facto establishment of a Palestinian state without war and without a negotiated final agreement. After all, while the land in Area C remains (so far) under total Israeli control, services to the population in education, welfare, health and so on are provided by the PA. If they succeed in developing a critical number of illegal outposts that they call villages, all with a network of roads that connect them and cut Area C up into pieces in a way that inhibits contiguity among Jewish towns and between them and Jerusalem and other cities, then applying Israeli law to Gush Etzion and the Jordan Valley can become untenable.
Illegal Outposts: Who Cares?
The Israeli Supreme Court does sometimes declare that such outposts are illegal and gives demolition orders, which are sometimes carried out. Especially well known is the case of Khan al-Ahmar. The Supreme Court was adament that it had to come down (but did not give a time frame) because parts of it were in the buffer zone around the highway connecting Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, making it dangerous for the children living there. The ICA has not carried out the demolition.
Whether or not a particular demolition is conducted is a political decision because the ICA does not make policy but, rather, carries it out. Khan al-Ahmar was not taken down under Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lapid in the new coalition government has put off reviewing the case, supposedly until September 2021, claiming this is a very sensitive issue. In other words, both Netanyahu and Lapid are afraid of international condemnation of the demolition. Is this the behaviour of a sovereign country that respects itself? Why does it seem that our governments care more about international relations than protecting our own land?
Strategic Planning expert Dany Tirza claims that a modern and well designed alternative has been planned to enable the population now at the place named Khan al-Ahmar to move to the Arava region close to others of their tribe, even offering them permanent resident status in Israel. This is a better alternative than what had been proposed in the past. As was explained to me by Regavim spokesperson Naomi Kahn and as Tirza writes, the residents of Khan al-Ahmar are willing to accept a compromise but the PA and the EU have been fighting every possible solution until now and it remains to be seen whether or not they will continue to use Khan al-Ahmar residents as pawns in their political manipulations aimed at snatching land away from Israel.
They EU is proud of their humanitarian projects and in a recent communication they wrote clearly that:
EU humanitarian aid is not influenced by any political, strategic, military or economic objective. . . .
The EU’s humanitarian response will continue to abide by the principle to ‘do no harm’ to affected populations and the environment and strive to be conflict-sensitive so that it does
not inadvertently reinforce conflict.
It is unclear how the EU can claim to be uninfluenced by political objectives while funding and supporting illegal construction of outposts on land that an internationally recognized contract agrees is under Israeli control. Rather than abiding by their own principles of doing no harm and avoiding ‘inadvertently’ reinforcing conflict, they are very obviously influenced by their political objective of undermining Israeli interests. This support of Palestinian Arab takeover most definitely reinforces the conflict.
It is easy enough to understand the PA motives here. Why does the EU put so much heavy resources behind this takeover project? Just saying ‘antisemitism’ is too easy. What does the EU think they will gain by getting Israel out of Area C and setting up a hostile Palestinian Arab state in the whole of Judea & Samaria? Because it will certainly be hostile. We have only to look to Gaza to know that. But the main question here is, aside from the potentially gratifying expression of Jew-hatred this might represent, are there any concrete gains the EU anticipates will accrue to them if they succeed?
In essence, we have a lackadaisicle Israeli attitude toward land encroachment in Area C (and in the Negev) and a determined enemy that has no problem keeping people in rundown tent villages without essential services as pawns in their political fight. I wish the Israeli government cared about the land of our forefathers enough to protect it rather than sacrifice it on the altar of ‘good’ international relations. I wish our government cared enough to call out the EU on its very cynical support of the inhumane treatment of people they claim to care about.
It seems the only body that cares is Regavim. They are doing, with a very small staff, what the government should have been doing for decades, with proper financial and manpower resources — mapping the area, mapping PA encroachment on the land in Area C by both illegal erection of tent “cities” and by planting olive trees and removing all of these, mapping private versus public lands and, something Regavim cannot do – taking a thorough census of the Arab population of the region so that natural growth is not accompanied by Arab settlers from Areas A and B taking up residence in Area C.
Feature Image Credit: photo by Sheri Oz