By Jafar Sadaqa
RAMALLAH, Tuesday, September 03, 2019 (WAFA) – In a step seen to defy Israel’s control over Area C, which makes up over 60 percent of the occupied West Bank, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Local Government, Ahmad Ghoneim, said today that his ministry is in the process of coming up with an action plan for the implementation of a government decision to do away with the Oslo classification of West Bank land into areas A, B and C, especially with regard to areas classified as C.
Area A, according to the 1993 Oslo Accords, is composed of the Palestinian cities and comes under full Palestinian control, even though Israeli troops often raid it and in 2002 Israel re-occupied it. It makes 18 percent of the area of the West Bank where 55 percent of the people live.
Area B, which is the hundreds of villages spread throughout the West Bank, is under Palestinian civil administration and Israeli security rule. Palestinian police cannot reach it without coordinating with the Israeli army. It makes 21 percent of the area of the West Bank where 41 percent of the people live.
Area C includes the scarcely populated areas such as the Jordan Valley and the agricultural and arid open lands and is under total Israeli military rule. It makes 61 percent of the area of the West Bank where only 4 percent of the Palestinian population lives. Israel keeps talking about the possibility of annexing this area, which would kill any chance of having a viable, sustainable, sovereign and independent Palestinian state.
The Ministry of Local Government issued a circular to local authorities calling on them to exercise their powers and responsibilities to expand the structural plans of their villages and towns to accommodate their natural population growth and urban development, without any regard to the classification of land under the Oslo agreement. This means expanding into Area C around them.
"We understand that a high degree of wisdom and awareness is required of all measures that the Israeli occupation authorities may take to impede the Palestinian Authority from exercising its powers. This requires that we have a support system that contributes to the protection of citizens’ property, investments and projects," Ghoneim told WAFA.
“The issue requires a high degree of resilience by all components of society - government and the public - and awareness of the financial requirements of this policy. We have completed a study on this support system and we will present it to the cabinet," he said without explaining what mechanism the government will establish to compensate any damages that may be caused to people by building or investing in areas C if Israel decides to demolish or seize them or force developers for pay high fines.
Ghoneim explained that the implementation of the decision will be in three stages; the first is to expand the structural plans in these areas, the second is planning, and the third to complete support for the implementation of this policy to ensure protection for the peoples’ interests.
He stressed that the government‘s policy on work in area C is "implementable", pointing to Jerusalem as a model where Jerusalemites built about 23,000 housing units in defiance of the Israeli authorities.
"We will set free the hands of people in Area C and see how many housing units will be built. We will not stand by watching while the occupation robs us of our land, builds settlements, and redefines land concepts sometimes as disputed, other times as under Israeli law, and then annexed," he said.
“All these concepts aim to steal the Palestinian land. We will not stand idly by in front of this policy. We must have an integrated vision to confront the occupation authorities and prevent them from achieving their goals. We are convinced that this project could be achieved."
Ghoneim explained that the circular of the Ministry of Local Government comes in response to the decisions of the government as expressed by Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and which considered the areas referred to as C as part of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.
He said that to implement this policy, “we as a ministry have utilized our powers, both procedural and technical, in the field of town planning at three levels: the Higher Planning Council, the regional planning committees, and local councils, and we demanded that these councils exercise their powers according to the laws in force, without any restrictions related to the titles and classifications.
Ghoneim stressed that the occupying power does not have the right to urban planning in Area C, whether under the Oslo Accords, applicable laws, or international law.
He said that Article 17 of the Oslo Accords defined Area C as Palestinian areas that will be gradually transferred to the Palestinian Authority 18 months after setting up the Legislative Council. As a result, he said, Israel has no authority over these areas for a long time. At the same time, the Urban Planning Law No. 79 for the year 1966 is still valid and applicable and explains the powers of the three planning authorities and covers the entire Palestinian territory, including Area C, after the transfer of these three powers to the Palestinian Authority.
He added that the Israeli authorities that make demolition and construction decisions are irrelevant, whether politically or legally. The so-called Civil Administration of the Occupying Power was dissolved after the Oslo Accords and was only revived by a unilateral Israeli military decision.
Ghoneim also said that the Occupying Power has no jurisdiction in urban planning in Area C, as all relevant international resolutions confirm that any action taken by the Occupying Power is null and void.