As European diplomats and Israeli courts deliberate the future of Palestinians in Area C, the Palestinian Authority is taking action it hopes will secure that future.
“How can you watch this and keep on using diplomatic language?” I asked, not expecting an answer from the three European Union diplomats in whose car I rode through the southern Hebron hills last Wednesday. By “this” I meant the sickening disparity between the lush green vegetation and the abundance of new homes in the Jewish settlements and the avalanche of demolition orders issued against tents and jury-rigged shanties where Palestinians live on their own land and 30 liters of water per person (because of Israel’s refusal to connect them to the water grid ).
This question broke the silence in the car as we left the cave village of Jinba, two or three times as old as the State of Israel, currently facing a demolition threat. To my surprise, one of the three answered: “It’s very hard.”
During Wednesday’s visit to the area by some 15 diplomats traveling in 10 SUVs, British Consul-General Vincent Fean said that the EU would closely follow the petitions submitted by Jinba and the other villages against their destruction, ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Maybe Fean has already heard that High Court Justices Uzi Vogelman, Esther Hayut and Isaac Amit on Thursday asked the petitioners and their representatives to withdraw their 12-year-old petition. That petition had yielded in 2000 the injunction that prevented the forced evacuation of the residents of Jinba and 11 other villages, after the military “firing zone 918” took over the area surrounding their homes. The honorable court is now asking the petitioners to submit new petitions by November 1, when the interim order against the expulsion expires.
Is the court’s rejection meant to make life difficult for the petitioners? Or does it stem from the age of the petitions and, in fact, provide the petitioners with an opportunity to improve upon their requests? Jurists in Brussels and The Hague must be wondering about that as well. EU statements have taken to using the phrase “forced transfer” more and more often. It’s more explicit than “evacuation,” less precise than “expulsion.” But the penultimate paragraph of the press release issued by the EU representatives who visited the southern Hebron hills is unambiguous: “The EU calls upon Israel to meet its obligations regarding the living conditions of the Palestinian population in Area C, by a policy shift entailing accelerated approval of Palestinian master plans, halting forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing and infrastructure, simplifying the administrative procedures to obtain building permits, ensuring access to water and addressing humanitarian needs.”
Area C is much more than the 150,000 Palestinians living in it under disgraceful and intentionally-restrictive conditions concocted by Israel. “Without Area C,” said a diplomat who did not participate in the tour, “there is clearly no Palestinian state. In the meantime, we’re donating billions of dollars to ensure that a Palestinian state is established alongside Israel. We know that our donations have enabled Israel to maintain a cheap, sustainable occupation. We decided to pick up the tab because we were promised this was the way to peace. The day is drawing close when we’re going to have to explain to our taxpayers why they’re continuing to finance a project that has failed.”
For about the millionth time, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, too, made this conditionality between Area C, a Palestinian state and peace. He spoke on the same Wednesday to an audience of local Palestinians with whom the diplomats mingled, in a large tent set up in the threatened cave village of Mufaqara.
Is the EU prepared to take any kind of action that would make it clear to Israel that it is serious? With semi-diplomatic caution, the diplomats criticized the PA for its inaction in Area C. “Before we do anything, the PA has to act,” they said during their visit. According to the Oslo Accords, Area C, under Israeli civilian and security authority, should have been a temporary category lasting until 1999. The PA’s leadership did not include it in its planning or requests for construction funding, even after it became clear that, for Israel, temporary is a permanent situation.
Fayyad picked up the gauntlet. In Mufaqara, he announced that the small villages in the southern Hebron hills would become local councils, i.e., legal entities, and master plans would be prepared for them. The nations of the EU have already indicated their willingness to help build infrastructures and develop the area according to Palestinian zoning and land use plans.
There’s only one small problem: Palestinian master plans and their implementation are in contradiction with Israel’s temporary permanent control and domination over Area C. Does Fayyad’s announcement indicate that the PA has decided to enter into a frontal planning confrontation with the military Civilian Administration? Are we going to see “stockade and tower” operations in Area C, a “zoning intifada” – with masses of Palestinian bulldozers (whose diesel is paid for by donor nations ) dislodging boulders and dozens of trucks carrying solar energy systems (financed by the same nations ). Will we witness Palestinian senior security personnel abandoning their air conditioned offices, where they coordinate security matters with Israel, to make their way, together with thousands of policemen, to Jinba and Susya so that they can build clinics and preschools and, with their bodies and in their uniforms, defend the drivers and construction workers and residents?
Only time will tell.