In the battle over Area C, where Israel maintains full security and civilian authority, it’s chalking up successes against the Palestinians and the European Union and has significantly reduced the number of internationally (mainly European) financed Palestinian projects. That’s the news provided by the head of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, Brigadier General Ghassan Alian, to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in two meetings in late July and mid-August. The subject: “the Palestinian takeover of Area C,” referring to 61 percent of the occupied West Bank.
The committee members, however, had reservations about the description of the situation as a “success.” “Even though there are wonderful and highly motivated people [in the Civil Administration], they are too small and this mission is several sizes too large for them,” said Matan Kahana of the right-wing Yamina party. The legislators demanded a firmer hand to prevent what they called a hostile illegal takeover of the area.
Yamina’s Bezalel Smotrich suggested that the settlements receive the authority to supervise and demolish unlicensed Palestinian structures in open areas; he was backed by Likud’s Ariel Kallner. Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked, a former justice minister, proposed pressure on the government to appoint a project manager “whose entire objective would be to prevent the takeover of Area C.” Kahana suggested that a special Israeli authority be set up to this end.
Until about two years ago, these issues were discussed by a subcommittee for the West Bank at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, headed by then-MK Moti Yogev of Habayit Hayehudi. The subcommittee was a key tool of right-wing Knesset members, including many settlers, for shaping Israelis’ conviction that Area C is Israeli territory for all intents and purposes. The subcommittee was also vital for planning Israeli policy there: accelerating and expanding construction of settlements while preventing Palestinian construction.
The committee members and its regular guests – including settler leaders and members of the group Regavim, whose proclaimed mission is to safeguard “the Jewish nation’s land” – often criticized what was described as the helplessness of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Civil Administration subordinate to it. The committee members encouraged these agencies to show greater firmness against the Palestinians.