A United Nations report published Wednesday stated that the number of Palestinians living under full Israeli control in the West Bank is far higher than previously estimated, but an Israeli expert responsible for drawing the map in the mid-1990s said the UN was disingenuously inflating the numbers for political reasons.
The “Area C Vulnerability Profile” published by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territories, known as OCHA, estimated that 297,900 Palestinians live in 532 residential areas in Area C, a subdivision of the West Bank with full Israeli security and administrative control. These areas, OCHA claimed, comprise “some of the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank in terms of humanitarian needs.”
The numbers cited by OCHA are more than six times higher than those acknowledged by politicians on Israel’s right, some of whom call on the government to annex area C. Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennet’s “stability initiative” recognizes just 48,000 Palestinians in Area C (compared to 350,000 Jewish Israelis), downplaying the demographic danger to Israel’s Jewish majority if the area — comprising 61 percent of the West Bank — is annexed.
Shaul Arieli, a retired colonel who mapped the boundaries of areas A, B and C in 1995 as head of the IDF’s Interim Agreement Administration in the West Bank, said OCHA’s numbers were misleading.
Technically speaking, nearly 300,000 Palestinians live within Area C, he said. But the vast majority of these civilians live in towns and villages located mostly within Area B, administratively controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Effectively, he noted, just 75,000 Palestinians live under full Israeli control in Area C, where all Israeli settlements are also located.
“It’s deception,” Arieli told The Times of Israel. “Practically speaking, this [data] is meaningless. What [OCHA] did is completely political … claiming that [Palestinians] need Area C because a quarter of the [West Bank] population lives there. It’s not serious.”
Arieli can hardly be accused of belonging to the annexationist right. A founding member of the Geneva Initiative, he is a passionate advocate of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.
Palestinians living in communities straddling the invisible line between Areas B and C and seeking building permits are not required to apply to the Israeli Civil Administration, which manages Palestinian civilian life in areas under Israeli control, Arieli said.
Israel only designated sections of Palestinian communities as Area C for security reasons, he said; for instance if they lay next to a road or a Jewish settlement. But practically speaking, this designation has no bearing on the lives of Palestinians living there.
“They build based on the municipal plans of these villages, and no one [in Israel] really intervenes.”
The Palestinian village of Huwara south of Nablus, for instance, is located within area B but situated along the road leading to the Israeli settlement of Elon Moreh.
“We took the first two rows of houses next to the road and placed them under Area C only for security reasons,” Arieli said. “But in civilian affairs we made no distinction. These homes are part of Huwara.”
The OCHA report did not hide the fact that many of the Palestinian communities surveyed are located mostly within Areas A and B. One table in the report indicates that just 241 “residential areas” lie completely within Area C, while 291 residential areas lie partially within Areas A and B. Nearly 176,000 Palestinians cited in the report live in communities which lie mostly outside Area C, while only 67,000 Palestinians live in residential areas that lie entirely within Area C, according to the report.
OCHA carried out a “vulnerability study” on communities located entirely within Area C back in 2008, together with UNRWA. It was not immediately clear why the criteria were changed for the new study. No comment was available by the organization at time of publication.
According to the UN organization, Palestinians living in Area C suffer from discriminatory Israeli planning and zoning policies, as well as restrictions on movement impeding their access to livelihood and basic services such as health and education.