You may have missed this Al Jazeera headline last month: “Israel approves plans for thousands of illegal settlement homes.”
Once again, the Qatari news service does what it does best—lie. Israel’s residential communities in Judea and Samaria—aka the West Bank—are not illegal. The Jewish state has every right to build in the specific area its communities are located, per terms of the Oslo Accords, signed by the Palestinians.
What is not legal is the unpermitted construction that Palestinians are undertaking in Israeli-controlled territory, at the instigation of the European Union.
The Palestinian Authority is building illegally in large portions of Judea and Samaria, with the aim of creating a de facto Palestinian state and thus avoiding required peace negotiations. Much of this illegal construction is financed by the European Union—part of a strategic plan to seize land under Israel’s control.
The Oslo Accords (1993-95) divided Judea and Samaria into three zones: Areas A, B and C. The Palestinians have full and partial control of Areas A and B respectively, where about 90% of the total population—2.8 million Arabs—reside. By agreement, Israel fully controls Area C, including authorizing construction.
Israel controls Area C for a great many security reasons, but also because Jews are the majority population there. Of the 800,000 residents, some 500,000 (62.5%) are Israelis, compared with just 300,000 (37.5%) Palestinians.
Remember that Palestinians assert all of Judea and Samaria—and indeed all of Israel—is “occupied Palestinian land.” They also falsely claim that they build illegally in Area C because Israel will not issue them permits. Facts disprove this allegation.
First, Palestinians maintain they can build wherever they want in Area C without permits. Indeed, P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has said, “We don’t need permission from the occupying power to build our homes on our lands.”
Despite Shtayyeh’s bluster, the Palestinians have no international legal rights to public land in Judea and Samaria. Nor have Palestinians historically ever had control or sovereignty over any part of Judea and Samaria. Nor does any treaty grant the Palestinians control over any territory.
Nonetheless, Israel has three times made sweeping offers of 95% of this territory—and a capital in Jerusalem—in return for peace. Sadly, the Palestinians rebuffed all offers.
Israel’s enemies falsely argue that Palestinians build illegally because Israel unfairly denies them permits. But in fact, Israel has regularly issued permits since it took over Judea and Samaria in 1967. In 1972, for example, Israel approved 97% of permit applications—2,123 of 2,199. Over time, however, this number has declined significantly—not because Israel refused to grant permits, but because Palestinians stopped applying for them, encouraged by their leaders simply to build without Israeli authorization.
When Palestinians do apply for permits, it is usually only after they begin building. Permits are also refused due to lack of master plans or because the land on which the Palestinians want to build is already designated for another purpose.
Nonetheless, Palestinians have illegally built on more than 2,000 acres of Area C, spread across 250 different locations. This does not include 373 miles of illegally-built roadways and more than 70 miles of retaining walls and terracing.
Investigative author Edwin Black, in a report entitled “EU Funding of Illegal Palestinian Settlement in Area C,” noted that Palestinian settlements “are often strategically scattered to effectively carve up Area C, sometimes surround Jewish villages, and sometimes push onto Israeli nature or military reserves.”
Black also described some of the various structures in these new, illegal settlements: Makeshift structures adorned with the E.U. logo, multi-floor office centers and palatial homes. “A broad gamut of construction styles can be seen,” he wrote.
All of this is being done in accordance with a joint Palestinian-E.U. plan to take control of land—without negotiations—for the creation of a de facto Palestinian state based on the 1948 armistice lines.
An article in the “Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture” described the implementation of this plan: “Since August 2009, [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad, with the help of the Barack Obama administration and the European Union, has been quietly building national institutions and physical infrastructure … in the West Bank.”
Last year, it was revealed that the European Union, too, has a secret plan to fund illegal Palestinian construction, known as the “European Joint Development Programme for Area C.” It has an annual budget of 300 million euros.
One illegal Palestinian structure financed by the European Union was a school located inside an Israeli nature reserve. Last May, Israel demolished it. In a statement, the Israeli military said the school was built illegally and “was found to be dangerous to the safety of anyone studying or otherwise visiting there,” and that therefore an Israeli court “ordered it demolished.”
Instead of praising Israel for ensuring the safety of Palestinian children, the European Union condemned the Jewish state. A spokesperson for the bloc said, “[Such] demolitions are illegal under international law and children’s rights to education must be respected.” Apparently, Palestinian children have the right to education, but not to safety.
As Edwin Black wrote in his report, “The European governments and the PA have thus joined forces to complete the final shredding of the already weakened Oslo agreements.”
While the Oslo Accords call for all territorial disputes to be settled by peace negotiations, the European Union and Palestinian Authority are obviously scoffing at the agreement, preferring to win land by illegal “squatting.”
Israel has every right to build in Area C and to enforce construction standards per the Oslo Accords. Neither is Israel trying to prevent Palestinians from building lawfully. There is, however, a concerted effort on the part of the P.A. and the European Union to create facts on the ground that sidestep final-status negotiations by seizing land to which they have no rights.