Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu greets pupils on September 1, the first day of school, in the West Bank settlement of Elkana. (Amir Cohen – pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Netanyahu Tells Israelis Living in West Bank He’ll Annex Settlements

Palestinian Authority says that for planning purposes, it no longer recognizes area’s division into three distinct zones of control and administration

Facing elections and under pressure from right-wing parties, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he plans to apply sovereignty over all of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, bringing bitter reaction from Palestinians.

“There won’t be any more uprooting,” Netanyahu said at a school in the Elkana settlement in the northern West Bank, where he helped open the new academic year on Sunday. “With God’s help, we’ll apply Jewish sovereignty on all the settlements as part of the Land of Israel and as part of the State of Israel.”

Elkana is a religious settlement.

In response, Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official who has been lead negotiator in peace talks over the years, tweeted a reaction in which he urged “those who claim concern after every Israeli settlement announcement” to face reality, which is that “Israel’s PM is announcing further annexation of occupied territory.”

Erekat went on by writing: “Enough impunity. There’s an international responsibility to impose sanctions on Israel after decades of systematic crimes.”

Over the weekend, the Palestinian Authority’s Local Government Ministry released a statement saying the PA had decided to stop referring to the West Bank as being divided into areas A, B and C, delineations called for in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Area A is under full control of the PA. Area C, comprising close to two-thirds of the West Bank, is under full control of Israel. Area B is under administrative control of the PA, and security control of Israel.

The ministry statement urged Palestinian village, town and city leaders to expand their planning regardless of the classification of the lands.

Ahmad Ghanem, the deputy minister, explained to The Media Line that the Palestinian side had been committed to the Oslo Accords, but that Israel violated them.

“The Israelis used to consider Area C disputed land,” Ghanem said. “Now the Israelis want to…annex it, which we refuse.”

All of the West Bank’s Jewish settlements, with some 400,000 residents, are considered Area C.

Ghanem said that under the terms of the accords, Area C was supposed to be handed over to the PA starting gradually within 18 months of the formation of a Palestinian legislative council, which was established in 1996. Israelis, however, say these moves would be contingent on a final status to be determined by peace talks. The talks remain broken down.

The PA itself was formed as an interim governing body under the accords, to be dissolved after no more than five years as part of a final peace agreement.

In official statements, Palestinian officials began ignoring the delineation of West Bank lands in July after Israel demolished residential buildings under construction in Area A. The structures were considered part of a neighborhood in East Jerusalem that has spilled over to the West Bank.

Ibrahim Melhem, the PA government’s spokesperson, told The Media Line that when Israel violates agreements, the Palestinians are no longer obligated to adhere to their terms.

“The PA will consider all West Bank land as Palestinian, without classification,” he elaborated. “Palestinian citizens are obligated to protect their lands.”

Melhem added that the July demolitions “prove that Israel doesn’t commit to any agreement.”

The Israelis say the structures in question were going up too close to their security barrier, something they claim would have made it easier for infiltrators, including terrorists.

Numerous times, leaders of the PLO have threatened to withdraw from agreements.

In January 2018, shortly after the Trump Administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the PLO’s Executive Committee announced it no longer accepted Washington as mediator for the peace process. It also said it would push to withdraw formal recognition of Israel until it recognized a state of Palestine along the pre-1967 borders and declared an end to the transitional period stipulated in the Oslo Accords.

The PA decided to suspend all security coordination with Israel at the same time and break away from economic dependence on the Jewish state encouraged by the Paris Economic Agreement of 1994.

Mohammed Hadyeh, a Palestinian political analyst based in East Jerusalem, said the PA’s decision to end its recognition of areas A, B and C comes within the context of the PLO’s stance on the matter.

“One of the most dangerous issues is the fact that [over 25 years since] the Oslo Accords, Israel hasn’t committed to transfer authority for Area C,” Hadyeh told The Media Line, adding that in the interim, the settler population had doubled, “which shows that Israel has no intention at all to implement its commitment to any agreement with the PA.”

Colette Avital, a retired Israel politician and diplomat, acknowledged a deterioration in relations between Israel and the PA.

“There are no negotiations or channels of communication between the two official sides,” she told The Media Line. “The situation is moving backwards, and we are going backwards with it, especially with [US President Donald Trump’s statements on Jerusalem and other issues], which don’t encourage dialogue or peace.”

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