Naftali Bennett, Israel’s defence minister, is pushing through a series of rapid-fire measures to treble the occupied West Bank’s settler population and annex all of the territory’s Area C, which Palestinians fear could end any hopes of a Palestinian state. He is doing this, analysts told Middle East Eye, thanks to the political limbo Israel is caught in after two inconclusive elections, and with the tacit blessing that the Trump administration has given Israel’s far right.
This week, Bennett, a hawkish ultranationalist, revealed that he was launching a task force to impose Israeli sovereignty over Area C – 61 percent of the West Bank – and grant settlers an unprecedented right to own land privately. “Our objective is that within a short amount of time, and we will work for it, we will apply Israeli sovereignty to all of Area C, not just the settlements, not just this bloc or another,” Bennett told the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative lobby in Jerusalem, on Wednesday.
According to the 1993 Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas: Area A, under Palestinian Authority (PA) security and civil control; Area B, where the PA has civilian rule but security remains controlled by Israel; and Area C, which is under full Israeli civil and security control and includes the highly strategic Jordan Valley.
Around 25 Palestinian towns and villages and approximately 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C which, like the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.
Around 325,500 Israeli settlers in 125 settlements and outposts, built in contravention to international law, also live in Area C. Bennett is aiming to increase the number of settlers in Area C to one million by the end of this decade, through increasing building permits for Israeli settlements.
The defence minister’s task force is set to allow Jewish settlers to buy land privately and provide “unauthorised” settlers’ outposts and settlements with water and electricity. This is an unprecedented move.