The first three letters of the alphabet A, B & C have come to mark the occupation and creeping colonisation of Palestine by Israel. The lines around these areas were drawn in the Oslo II agreement signed in Taba in 1995. This divided the West Bank into three areas, with Israel and Palestine enjoying varying degrees of administrative and security rights in each. The area covering all West Bank cities and most of the Palestinian population was labelled Area A, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) enjoying “full” administrative and security control. Area B contains large rural areas with the PA enjoying only administrative control. The remaining 60% was labelled Area C and fell under complete Israeli control, except when it comes to education and medical provisions. Significantly, Israel controls all issues to do with the land, including its allocation and applications for construction both of private structures and the infrastructure.
To complete the picture of the colonialist control Israel exercises over the West Bank you have to add the impact of the Wall or Fence, which Israel built after the Oslo Accords and the infrastructure of roads that serve the settlements, many of which can only be used by settlers in Israel’s version of Apartheid.
It is important to realise that Areas A, B and C are not three separate geographical areas that are easily identifiable, rather an administrative division effectively determined by Israel to serve its expansionist, colonialist agenda. Step out of a Palestinian city or town and you are almost certainly in Area C and thus under complete Israeli control. Area C is home to an estimated 300,000 Palestinians living in mostly small villages and communities and 350,000 Israeli settlers living in 135 settlements and 100 outposts. Some of Palestine’s most fertile land can be found in the Jordan valley which falls in Area C.
The 22 years since Oslo and the futile negotiations to reach a final deal have not passed with Israel respecting even this outrageous division of the West Bank. Any pretence of a Palestinian area that is safe from Israeli interference is a myth.
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Take Area A, which includes all Palestinian cities. The PA is responsible for security and therefore it should be safe to assume that Israeli occupation forces would not enter these under any circumstances. However, this is a myth. Israeli forces regularly enter Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron and Jenin to arrest, injure or maim. It has abducted members of the Legislative Council, including the speaker and PFLP MP Khalida Jarrar. Most recently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was said to have called PA President Abbas to apologise for the Israeli occupation forces conducting activities near his home and interacting with his presidential guards. Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces cannot apprehend any Israeli settlers for acts of violence anywhere in the West Bank and any settlers that accidentally venture into Area A are quickly secured and handed over to the occupation forces.
In Area C, Israel’s colonial activities abound as it enjoys both security and administrative control. The application of one rule for Palestinians and another for the illegal settlers is clearest here. Palestinians cannot build, extend or improve their homes or businesses without interference from Israel, which is often violent. The almost certain refusal of Israel to grant planning permits for the construction of homes, schools, businesses and agricultural structures leaves Palestinians with no option but to build without these. The almost inevitable result is demolition. The UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has described how 5,000 Palestinians in Area C live in designated “firing zones” and are expected to leave their homes for hours or days during Israeli military training. OCHA further describes the dire situation for the Bedouins, regularly under threat of relocation from their land, against their will.
Communities other than the Bedouins have also faced having to relocate repeatedly. One particularly stark example has been the community of Susyia in the Hebron Hills whose members have faced three relocations in three decades to allow a settlement of almost the same name to be established and then to allow its expansion.
In recent years, a number of Israeli politicians who are completely opposed to the existence of a Palestinian state have called for annexation of swathes of Area C, if not all of it. Current Education Minister Naftali Bennet has even called for the 300,000 Palestinians who live in it to be granted Israeli citizenship. He believes the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank could then run their own affairs and full independence would be impossible. Other Israeli politicians have perhaps not been as forthright in calling for annexation of areas of the West Bank as Bennet, however it is now difficult to find any that call for a genuine two-state solution that would bring Palestinians any hope of an end to the occupation.
More recently, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced it would be confiscating 370 acres of land in the Jericho district, declaring it “state land”. This kind of action renders the designation of a plot of land as A, B or C completely meaningless. Israel acts with complete impunity. If it decided to declare the Ramallah Palestinian Authority headquarters as a military closed zone or a firing zone, who could stop it?
At Oslo, the Palestinian negotiators not only agreed to recognition of Israel with no reciprocal recognition of Palestine, they agreed to the further carving up of the 22% that they accepted as “Palestine” into these three areas. The reality was that Palestinians and settlers lived in all three areas and that Israel used the designations to suit its agenda. The Oslo Accords were meant to be temporary, leading to a negotiated settlement within five years. On the face of it, the Palestinian negotiators may have assumed all three areas would be handed back at the end of the five years, free of settlers, to form the supposed viable, contiguous state that they dreamt of. However, 22-years-later, no deal has been reached and in practice, Israel violates the interim agreements on a daily basis whether in area A, B or C. This designation has become a further obstacle to peace and will not change soon without external pressure. For peace to come to the holy land, clear, unambiguous pressure must be exerted on Israel to end its occupation, dispatching the alphabet of colonisation to the dustbin of history.
Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He writes here in a personal capacity.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.