Palestinian premier threatens Israel with extending control of occupied West Bank

Mohammad Shtayyeh said the PA will treat the whole territory as if it was Area A, the section it controls, in response to Israeli demolitions

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh italks during an interview with The Associated Press, at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Stayyeh accused the United States of declaring "financial war" on his people and said an American peace plan purported to be in the works will be "born dead." (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
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The Palestinian prime minister has said that he will extend Palestinian administrative and security control in the occupied West Bank in response to recent Israeli violations of the agreements governing the disputed territory.

"Israel does not respect any of the signed agreements and deals with the entire occupied Palestinian territory as Area C," Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Sunday. "Accordingly, we will deal with all the lands belonging to the State of Palestine as Area A, including occupied East Jerusalem."

The Palestinian premier's comments referred to buildings that Israel demolished two weeks ago in a part of an occupied East Jerusalem suburb called Wadi Hummus that is under control of the Palestinian government based in Ramallah.

Israel said the structures were built too close to its separation barrier cutting off the occupied West Bank, and they therefore posed a security threat. Residents denied the accusation and said they had the required permits from the Palestinian Authority to build.

The United Nations, European Union, and countries like Saudi Arabia quickly condemned the demolitions in Wadi Hummus. However, now that the dust has settled, Palestinians worry a new precedent has been set for Israeli demolitions in Palestinian-controlled areas.

Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The 1993 Oslo Peace accords were meant to pave the way for a Palestinian state in these parts.

The nominally interim agreement divided the West Bank into three sections: Area A, where the Palestinian Authority is in control, Area B, where the PA is in administrative control and Israel maintains security, and Area C, which makes up 60 per cent of the West Bank and where Israel remains fully in charge.

In the two decades since Oslo, however, Israel has expanded settlements deep into Area C, while the semi-autonomous PA has struggled to maintain its relevance with no final status agreement to the conflict.

Now, Israel’s extreme-right government, backed by the Trump administration, has been increasingly assertive in expanding its control in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in tandem with rejecting the Oslo paradigm. The Palestinians have cut all public ties to the Trump administration in response to what it views as pro-Israel and pro-settlement policies.

Most Palestinians in the occupied West Bank these days live in Areas A and B, partly because Israel rarely provides permits for Palestinians to build in Area C while frequently granting them to Jewish Israeli settlers.

Last week, the Israeli government made the rare announcement that it would grant about 700 building permits to Palestinians in Area C, in addition to around 6,000 permits to Israeli settlers in the area. The Palestinian government says about 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, while there are now around 400,000 Israelis.

Earlier this week, the PA announced that it would start giving Palestinians permits to build in Area C of the occupied West Bank, though the threat has yet to be tested. Israel frequently demolishes Palestinian homes and buildings constructed in Area C without an Israeli-issued permit.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly said  that he will pull out of the Oslo Accords, but has never done so. The PA's hands are partly tied, since the Oslo Accords created the PA and therefore their official collapse would result in the PA's own dissolution.