The Khan al-Ahmar affair has outraged Israelis for different reasons.
It illustrates the discrimination between Palestinian squatters and the settlers at Migron, Givat HaUlpana, Amona and Netiv Ha’avot, in whose cases the state has followed the absolute letter of the law as stipulated by the High Court of Justice. It’s a testament to the government’s weakness in the face of leftist organizations, the current media climate and diplomatic pressure. It sends a message of feebleness and inability to govern over criminality and unlawful activity in strategic areas, and points to the state’s unwillingness to implement its own decisions.
But most disconcerting is the lack of decisive response to the phenomenon, which poses a significant threat to Israel.
The Bedouin outpost of Khan al-Ahmar is not an unusual case of illegal Palestinian construction. It is a comprehensive system which the Palestinian Authority has orchestrated against the State of Israel for the past decade, to seize control of strategic parts of Area C, which is under Israeli civil and military control, in contravention of the Oslo Accords. This strategic initiative was devised and spearheaded by former P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In 2008, Fayyad opened an official bureau to coordinate activities on the ground—the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which receives tens of millions of euros from the European Union.
This sprawling takeover is implemented, first and foremost, by methodical and organized settlement of Palestinians in select strategic areas. Those willing to squat in abandoned structures and areas receive economic incentives from the P.A. Likewise, these settled areas benefit from investment in infrastructure—from paved roads to the development of water reservoirs, pipelines and irrigation systems. Ultimately, this settlement endeavor is expedited through agriculture. The settled areas are systematically developed with terraces and fields for grazing and crop growing, in large part encouraged by the governments of Holland, Denmark and Norway.
Khan al-Ahmar, situated in the E1 area and adjacent to Highway 1 (Israel’s main east-west artery), is just one example among many of the P.A.’s efforts to take control of strategic areas by squatting them. Aside from Khan al-Ahmar, there are dozens of other similar illegal outposts in the area, home to tens of thousands of Palestinians.
The solution Israel has proposed to the residents of Khan al-Ahmar could significantly improve their standard of living. If this were truly the goal and interest of the P.A. and its supporters, they would take the offer with open arms. However, from the perspective of Palestinian leaders, relocating the residents to a different place impairs their efforts to hijack Highway 1; hence, their fervent efforts to torpedo the government’s proposal.
Although the status quo hasn’t changed in an official sense, recently the impression has been of gradual momentum towards Israeli annexation of Area C. This impression is mistaken.
However, in recent years, mainly since Ayelet Shaked was appointed Justice Minister, important measures have been implemented to regulate settlement and normalize life in Judea and Samaria—from the Regulation Law, to making Knesset legislation more compatible with Judea and Samaria, to the state’s efforts to counter the High Court’s anti-settlement rulings.
With that, “under our noses” the P.A. is flooding the area with tens of thousands of invaders, and using them to slowly annex and appropriate Area C. As of today, the Palestinian invasion sprawls more than 7 percent into Area C, and the total area of Palestinian settlement is almost three times larger than the area housing the entire Jewish settlement enterprise.
The basic assumption of the Palestinians and their partners is that creating facts on the ground fosters an irreversible reality, and that any land they are able to confiscate now will remain theirs under any future accord. The government’s capitulation to pressure from elements trying to hurt Israel’s interests sends the message that there is a lack of governability, and it encourages further criminality.
Khan al-Ahmar’s immediate evacuation is imperative, therefore, to deliver a message that facts illegally created on the ground are reversible. Meanwhile, Israel must urgently formulate a comprehensive plan to remove the remaining Palestinian outposts, put an end to the P.A.’s hostile takeover of the land—and begin governing.
Dr. Anat Roth is a research fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum and the Israel Democracy Institute.