Israel is preparing to carry out a census of the Palestinian population in territories it seeks to annex in the West Bank, according to reports Thursday.
Officials want to evaluate how many of the residents may come under Israeli civil rule, and seek to block an influx of Palestinians to those areas before sovereignty is applied, the Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz newspapers reported.
Israeli annexation forms part of the Trump administration peace plan unveiled in January, which also paves the way for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to swiftly, and unilaterally, extend Israeli sovereignty to some 30 percent of the West Bank in accordance with the plan. Netanyahu, who wants to move forward with the annexation next month, has previously said that tens of thousands of Palestinian residents in the Jordan Valley, a key strategic area up for annexation, would continue to live in “enclaves” under PA administrative control without getting Israeli citizenship.
But since the maps of the annexation plan have not been unveiled, it remains unclear whether many other Palestinians in areas adjacent to settlements would be absorbed into Israel and whether Netanyahu’s position applies to all Palestinians living in such areas.
In recent weeks, the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body that governs the West Bank, has been preparing for the possibility that it will need to carry out a census of Palestinians living in territory that will be annexed to Israel, according to the reports.
The count would focus on Area C, which is under full Israeli control, and includes the major settlement blocs of the northern and southern West Bank regions, as well as the Jordan Valley. It would aim to establish the number of permanent residents in those areas with teams of three to five Civil Administration staff going house to house to count the population.
The teams would be escorted by security forces. Due to concerns that the census would cause friction among the Palestinian population, there is a proposal that they wear some form of neutral uniform, the reports said.
This week, senior police officials toured the areas, also with a view to preparing for a possible census, the reports said.
While the Palestinian Authority conducts its own regular censuses, Israeli officials are wary of relying on official figures out of Ramallah, according to the reports. Israel last carried out a census of the Palestinians civilian population in 1967, according to Haaretz, the year it captured the territory from Jordan in the Six-Day War.
Current estimates suggest tens of thousands of Palestinians live in villages located in the relevant areas. Officials are concerned that if Israel actually announces an extension of sovereignty, many West Bank residents in other areas might quickly relocate to the annexed territories in order to benefit from an expected eventual granting of Israeli citizenship to those who live there, the reports said.
The Civil Administration declined to comment on the reports.
Last month Netanyahu said in an interview that Palestinians living under Israeli rule in an annexed Jordan Valley would not receive Israeli citizenship. Palestinian towns and villages in the area will remain “Palestinian enclaves” under Palestinian rule but Israel security control, he explained.
These Palestinian residential areas, which some estimates say are home to 50,000-65,000 Palestinians, “will remain as Palestinian enclaves,” he told the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom. “You don’t annex [the Palestinian city of] Jericho [which has a population of some 20,000]. There are one or two clusters [of Palestinian residential areas] where you don’t have to extend sovereignty; [their residents] will remain Palestinian subjects, you might say, but [overall Israeli] security control will apply there.”
Netanyahu has repeatedly promised to declare annexation over all of Israel’s West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley from the July 1 date permitted by his coalition deal with Defense Minister Gantz, subject to American approval. But earlier this week, he told settler leaders the non-settlement areas might have to wait.
Well-placed sources told The Times of Israel recently that the joint mapping committee tasked with delineating the contours of the annexation move still had weeks if not months of work, and that US approval for any annexation by July was “highly unlikely.” The IDF has also not been told precisely what Netanyahu has in mind.
According to Israeli officials who spoke to Zman Yisrael, the Hebrew sister site of The Times of Israel, in a story published early Wednesday, Netanyahu will delay most annexation and only focus on the large settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel and the Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem. The Jordan Valley would not be included in the first stage of annexation, these officials said.