Area C, the chunk of the West Bank the Israeli right has long coveted
Encouraged by US President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been in a position to start his controversial West Bank annexation plan since July 1. The prime, fertile Jordan Valley, located in the West Bank’s Area C are in the Israeli leader’s sights and have long been coveted by his hard-right supporters.
Netanyahu has been able, in principle, to start the annexation of one-third of the West Bank any time since July 1, delivering on an election campaign promise that is in line with Trump’s Middle East “peace plan”.
The plan envisions the Israeli annexation of a vast strip of agricultural land that spans the breadth of the fertile Jordan Valley, which runs roughly from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and includes areas abutting the Israeli settlements near Jerusalem. If realised, the annexation of a chunk of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, would be the final nail in the coffin of a two-state solution, killing any scope for a contiguous, viable Palestinian state.
"Benjamin Netanyahu has made this project a personal affair. He wants to go down in history as one of the prime ministers who validated a form of annexation – like Menachem Begin with the Golan Heights in 1981, or Levi Eshkol with East Jerusalem after the 1967 war," said David Rigoulet-Roze of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), in an interview with FRANCE 24.
The territories coveted by Netanyahu are in Area C of the West Bank, which was divided into three sectors under the Oslo Accords. Under the interim 1990s agreements, the West Bank was divided into these areas of control pending a final accord. Area A is under exclusive Palestinian control, Area B is under Palestinian administration and Israeli security control, and Area C, defined as “areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B”, the largest area, which constitutes around 60 percent of the West Bank, is an area to be “gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction”.
More than a quarter century later, that plan appears to be going up in smoke since Netanyahu’s plan to annex 30 percent of the West Bank is equivalent to around 50 percent of Area C.
'Unique, one-off opportunity'
"Originally, the idea was that Area C would gradually become part of the Palestinian Authority, then eventually part of Palestine when there would be a permanent agreement," Yossi Beilin, one of the Israeli negotiators of the Oslo Accords, told AFP. But the Israeli right now views Area C as Israeli territory, which constitutes an abuse of Oslo, Beilin noted, by turning something "interim" into something "forever".
For the Israeli right, which has often debated the annexation of Area C, the region is not viewed as Palestinian territory. The right views this zone merely as a "disputed" area in "Judea-Samaria" referring to the biblical name used by the Israeli government for the occupied West Bank.
In recent years, several figures of the Israeli far right – such as former defence minister Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel, a former agriculture minister – have called for the annexation of Area C.
Some, such as Moshe Feiglin, a former Likud Knesset member and current head of the libertarian Zionist party Zehut, have even proposed a complete West Bank takeover by paying Palestinian families $500,000 each to emigrate.
Netanyahu had kept his distance from this debate, before he promised last September – a week before hotly contested legislative elections – to realise the dream of his right-wing supporters. "If I receive from you, citizens of Israel, a clear mandate to do so... today I announce my intention to apply, with the formation of the next government, Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea," he said in a televised speech.
Seizing on what he called the “unique, one-off opportunity” afforded him by the Trump administration, Netanyahu noted that, “We haven’t had such an opportunity since the  Six Day War, and I doubt we’ll have another opportunity in the next 50 years”, before imploring voters to “give me the power to guarantee Israel’s security. Give me the power to determine Israel’s borders”.
An annexation of a de facto situation on the ground
But the plan still divides Israeli society and the political class. According to an Israel Democratic Institute poll published in early June, only 50 percent of Israelis support the annexation project.
For their part, a number of Israeli security officials, both current and retired, oppose annexation behind the scenes, believing that there is nothing to be gained by enshrining into law a situation that, in any case, already exists de facto on the ground.
Indeed, from a demographic point of view, the colonisation of the West Bank, which has accelerated under Netanyahu – who has been in power continuously since 2009 – has changed the situation in Area C. Around 450,000 settlers live in Area C – more than the number of Palestinians estimated at between 200,000 to 290,000, according to Israeli media figures.
Moreover, from an administrative point of view, the Jewish State retains control over security, planning and construction, and imposes restrictions on movement, access and construction of Palestinian homes. Israel rarely grants Palestinians building permits in that zone.
In 2016, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that Israeli policy in Area C creates a "highly coercive environment that forces [Palestinians] to leave". A policy deemed "systematic and general", which, according to the UN, prevents the Palestinian population from developing, from having access to water resources, pasture, agricultural land and even basic services.
"All these policies, which have been carried out for years – whether it's the transfer of Palestinians, the construction of settlements, the classification of land as a military zone – were aimed at taking as much land as possible with as few Palestinians as possible," Majed Bamya, a Palestinian diplomat at the UN, told FRANCE 24.
It remains to be seen whether Netanyahu will opt for a maximalist approach with the annexation of the Jordan Valley and a hundred or so settlements, or a minimalist approach by targeting a handful of settlements in zone C.
Whatever his choice, he will have to speed up the process despite international criticism and objections, particularly from European leaders and the UN, because a Trump defeat in November's US presidential election could throw a spanner in his annexation works.
This article has been translated from the original in French.
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