Area C and the Death of the Two-State Solution

Binational State Over Horizon

In the early morning hours of Sunday, January 13, a small army of black-suited Israeli police and soldiers forcibly evicted two hundred Palestinian activists and their international supporters from a hilltop encampment in the disputed E-1 corridor between East Jerusalem and the Jewish settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, in the heart of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“Bab al-Shams” (Gate of the Sun), the Palestinians called their outpost. The land it sat on is reportedly owned by Bedouins, who had approved the tent community. With just a week to go before Israeli elections, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opted to have the Palestinians evicted on security grounds (after having the site declared a “closed military zone”), ignoring an Israeli Supreme Court decision granting the settlers a six-day reprieve.

Some say the establishment of the Bab al-Shams tent settlement — early last Friday morning — marks a turning point in the evolution of Palestinian resistance against Israel’s 45-year occupation and settlement of the West Bank, which Palestinians claim for a future state.

Turning the tables on Israeli settlement policy, the Palestinian activists were seeking to establish “facts on the ground” when they pitched twenty steel-framed tents on the strategic E-1 hilltop, occupying land the Israeli government has reserved for Jewish settlement. When Jewish settlers set up outposts like this, Israeli authorities spend months or years wringing their hands, tormenting themselves over an appropriate response, while Israeli soldiers provide the settlers protection.

Predictably Bab al-Shams’ Palestinian settlers were greeted in an entirely different fashion. The Israeli government had only just announced its intention to build three thousand housing units on and around this very spot. Although doing so would consign a much hoped-for two-state solution to oblivion, Israel’s critics argued — making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible by cleaving the West Bank in two — Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t care less. Indeed, putting the kibosh on Palestinian national aspirations is apparently precisely what he has in mind.

Netanyahu’s approach to killing a true two-state solution seems obvious. Under the terms of the 1994 Oslo Accords that were supposed to lay the groundwork for a future Palestinian state — almost twenty years ago, now — the West Bank was divided into three zones. Area A, comprised of populated Palestinian centers totaling 18 percent of the West Bank, would be under the complete control of a semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority. Surrounding Area B lands — another twenty percent of the total — would be under joint Israeli and PA control. The remaining sixty-two percent of the West Bank — Area C — would be under full Israeli control. The explicit intention of the accords was that all three areas would eventually be transformed into an independent Palestinian state, with Israeli cooperation.

From the start, Israeli authorities had different plans. The Oslo Accords gerrymandered Area C in such a way as to encompass all of the Jewish settlements Israel had established following its June 1967 seizure of the West Bank from Jordan (like Hebron’s Kiryat Arba, in the attached audio story). By the time the Oslo Accords were signed in 1994, some one hundred and ten thousand settlers lived in Area C. Today, that number has risen to three hundred and fifty thousand. Jewish settlements are illegal under international law.

Fast forward twenty years … With the “peace process” all but dead, some suggest that Israel is now preparing to incorporate Area C into Israel proper, arguing that it has no “partner for peace.” Over the past decade, Israeli home demolition and eviction practices within Area C, and persistent attacks from Jewish settlers, have driven about a thousand Palestinians out of Area C, into nearby towns within Area A. As the attached audio story reports (click on the link beneath the above photo), these practices have been particularly obvious within Area C lands south of Hebron. Having reduced the Palestinian population in this way, Israeli annexation of Area C will have little effect on the “demographic balance” between Jews and Arabs. The 75-100,000 Palestinians remaining in Area C could even be granted Israeli citizenship.

If Israel does annex Area C, all that would remain for a Palestinian state and its 2.5 million West Bank inhabitants would be the seventy isolated enclaves comprising Area A, sealed within a matrix of Jewish settlements and Jewish-only roads, akin to the landlocked bantustans of Apartheid South Africa. In the final days of the Israeli electoral campaign, right-wing politician Naftali Bennett has proposed just such a measure. It’s unlikely the Palestinian Authority would accept it. Palestinian activists certainly won’t.

Which brings us back to this past weekend’s remarkable act of resistance on a rocky, windswept hilltop a few kilometers east of occupied East Jerusalem. As prospects for a truly sovereign Palestinian state slowly vanish, Palestinian activists are laying the groundwork for the unitary, binational state lying somewhere beyond the opposite horizon.

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