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Leaked EU report details plan to strengthen Palestinian claims in West Bank’s Area C

Document reportedly calls on Europeans to monitor Israeli excavations, provide legal aid to Palestinians in areas fully controlled by Israel; Smotrich: EU involvement unacceptable

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

View of the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumin and the area known as E1, in the West Bank on January 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumin and the area known as E1, in the West Bank on January 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The European Union is formulating a new program to protect Palestinian claims in parts of the West Bank fully controlled by Israel, known as Area C, according to a confidential document reported by Israeli television.

The six-page document from June 2022, titled “European Joint Development Programme for Area C,” says that the EU “aims at defending the right of Palestinians living in Area C and preserving Area C as part of a future Palestinian State in line with the Oslo Accords.”

It also lays out practical steps such as mapping out land in Area C, according to Israel’s Channel 13 news, which broke the story on Monday.

The EU document discusses the need to provide legal aid to Palestinians in Israeli courts to protect their claims, and to monitor Israeli archaeological digs in Area C, which it sees as a tool Israel uses to tighten and justify its control over the West Bank.

Ultimately, the EU would like to see Area C combined with Areas A and B, with no distinction between them, according to the report.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the West Bank was split into three administrative divisions, with Area A controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Area B under split control and Area C — the largest section, constituting about 60 percent of the territory — remaining fully under Israeli control.

Area C, which is the only contiguous section of the West Bank and contains the most fertile land and valuable natural resources, was supposed to be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction, according to the accords, but that has not happened. The Israeli settlements are located in Area C.

A Palestinian demonstrator blocks the road in front of Israeli soldiers in the Masafer Yatta area in the West Bank, which has been at the center of a protracted legal battle, July 1, 2022. (Mosab Shawer/AFP)

In response to Monday’s report, the EU’s delegation in Israel would not confirm its authenticity, saying only that as a rule they do not comment on alleged internal documents.

“The EU’s policies and positions are formed by 27 member states and are conveyed and communicated in a proper way both to partners and to the media,” said the delegation in a statement. “Our policy regarding the West Bank has not changed: The EU is united in its commitment to achieving a two-state solution with the State of Israel living live side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition with an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable State of Palestine, with Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.”

Area C is today home to around 400,000 Israelis, with 70% of the land off-limits for Palestinian development.

The Foreign Ministry said that the document expresses positions that it sees as “unacceptable,” which Israel has expressed to the EU in the past on multiple occasions.

It also noted the high-level contacts between the two sides, including the renewal of Association Council meetings in June for the first time in a decade.

ELNET, an organization working to build ties between Israel and Europe, called on the EU to promote solutions by increasing its cooperation with Israel. “No long-term solution can come without a frank and direct conversation between all sides,” a spokesman for the organization told The Times of Israel.

The report was written well before the elections in November that will in all likelihood see Benjamin Netanyahu back in power at the head of a right-wing coalition, and as such is not a response to any anticipated changes in Israeli policy.

Religious Zionism leader MK Bezalel Smotrich standing above the illegal Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the coalition deal reached earlier this month between Netanyahu and Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, authority over the Civil Administration — an agency of the Defense Ministry and the IDF that directs civilian life in Area C — will be transferred from the Likud defense minister to a junior minister within the Defense Ministry who will be appointed by the far-right Religious Zionism party.

Smotrich blasted the reported EU document Monday, saying that “the blatant involvement of the EU in the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to establish facts on the ground and unilaterally establish a de facto Arab terrorist state in the heart of the Land of Israel is unacceptable, contrary to international law, and incompatible with basic rules of diplomacy in relations between countries.”

He also pledged that the incoming government would work to stymie the “hostile activity” of the PA and international actors.

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