The Israeli side of the border fence in Naharayim, also known by Jordanians as al-Baqoura, in the Jordan Valley. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinian Authority Aims to Reclaim ‘Area C’ in West Bank (with VIDEO)

Government to recruit youth for projects in Jordan Valley

Any Palestinian university graduate who relocates to the Jordan Valley, or to nearby villages that are also in Area C of the West Bank, to work in productive projects will receive “full assistance,” the Palestinian prime minister announced.

Under the 1995 Oslo II Accord, Area C, which comprises approximately 60 percent of the West Bank, is under full Israeli civil and security control, pending a final agreement. The region contains most Israeli Jewish communities and approximately 300,000 Palestinians.

On Monday, the Palestinian cabinet said in a press release that the initiative aimed to strengthen the Palestinian people’s presence on “their entire land” and to prevent abuses by the Israeli occupation, “which aims to narrow the ways of life for our people.”

Ibrahim Melhem, the Palestinian government spokesperson, explained to The Media Line that the project came in order to address internal and external challenges.

“It’s part of a governmental strategy for a gradual disintegration of the Israeli economy [in the West Bank] within a self-accreditation plan,” Melhem said.

He confirmed that the plan was to recruit Palestinian youth for economic development, as well as to reclaim and cultivate land, to prevent the expansion of Israeli settlements, especially in the Jordan Valley, which, he said, was the area most targeted by Israeli settlers. “This government step is to employ our youth and support their resilience and the resilience of the Palestinian people there.”

When asked whether Israeli cooperation would be required, since the area was controlled by Israel, Melhem said that Area C belonged to its indigenous people. “We [the Palestinian government] exist wherever there are Palestinians. We will support them and provide whatever is needed for their steadfastness in these areas.”

Israel, he said, violated all kind of rules and did not recognize international resolutions or human rights. “The houses in Wadi Hummus were demolished, and they were located in an area that is controlled by the Palestinian Authority.”

Wadi Hummus is a section in the southeastern Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher that over the years expanded into Area A of the West Bank. Area A is assigned under the Oslo Accords to the full control of the Palestinian Authority. Wadi Hummus is, however, within Israel’s West Bank security barrier, and last month security forces demolished several residential buildings under construction there, saying they presented a risk by being so close to the wall.

In the wake of the demolitions, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decided, during a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, to end cooperation with Israel, notably regarding security. A committee was established to look into ways to “abrogate all agreements,” but that has yet to happen.

The Media Line took to the street and asked young Palestinians what they thought of the government plan to recruit them. Some exhibited optimism about the initiative, while others rejected it.

Aboud al-Khateeb, a student, doesn’t see it as the right solution for the Palestinian youth unemployment problem. “What are we supposed to do in Area C, and what work can we do there? I think the government is just trying to move us out of here.”

Deyar, who didn’t share his last name with The Media Line, disparaged the government decision, asking how it would be possible to build in an area that was fully controlled by Israel without permission from Israel. “How are they going to send us there? Nothing is assured; the PA can’t guarantee our presence there,” he said.

However, other young Palestinians welcomed the idea. Mohammed Izzar Daraghmeh, an engineering student at Birzeit University, located north of Ramallah, told The Media Line that he would definitely consider the offer. “If there are projects there and job opportunities for us, I would go and build my future. In our current difficult situation in Palestine, I would go wherever there is work and money,” he said.

Rinad Arar, who lives in a village near Ramallah, said that all the land from the north to the south was Palestinian. “It’s good to increase the population there in the face of the [Israeli] settlers,” he said. “Of course I would go and work there; it’s my land. I would be the first person to go.”

Ameera Arar, a student, urged the Palestinian Authority not to implement the decision, as Israel would likely force the participants to leave. “Israel controls that land and there are settlers there,” she elaborated. “They should build us projects here in our cities and villages to work, especially since we can’t find any job opportunities.”

Ahmed Shami, a leading Palestinian entrepreneur, told The Media Line that the issue of the Palestinian youth was very complex, and that there was a clear transformation in the PA strategy to solve it. “There is obviously a resetting of priorities of the government,” he said.

Shami believes the Palestinian government is slowly moving from the phase of forming strategy to implementation.

“I think the Palestinian government will achieve a big milestone toward moving away from the Israeli economic domination and occupation of the Palestinian policy and economy,” he said. “And at the same time, to help our youth feel that they are part of the solution rather than the problem.”

Shami noted that where there were risks, there was opportunity. “I want to be optimistic that I think for the first time we see the Palestinian government is becoming more proactive rather than reactive to the Israeli illegal policies and violations in the Palestinian territories.”

Bishara Dabah, a Palestinian economic analyst, told The Media Line that three out of five people in the West Bank were out of work, and that it takes an average of two to three years to find a job. “This is very bad. Now, what is happening? The economy is realigning itself and they’re trying to create new jobs.”

Regarding the new plan, Dabah said that as for anything that helped young people get employment, “we are all for it.”

“Our prime minister is taking us in the right direction, creating jobs, employment and hope,” he added.

Dabah said that Area C was still within the pre-1967 borders and still belonged to the Palestinians under international law, and that developing any piece of land in Palestine was something positive.

“Area C might entail political risk, but I believe that the world has to understand that Palestinians have rights and have limitless patience, as well as limitless love for their country,” he said.

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