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The road to annexation runs through Area C

Israel's approval of Palestinian construction in the West Bank effectively cemented its control there, and undermined PA President Abbas
Illustrative. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference following a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) about US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, on December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (AFP Photo/Yasin Akgul)
Illustrative. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference following a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) about US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, on December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (AFP Photo/Yasin Akgul)

If anyone is wondering why the Israeli government was so eager to approve the construction of 715 homes for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli security and civilian control, just as senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is about to visit the Middle East, the answer is becoming clearer by the minute. The move means to push the Palestinian Authority out of Area C and cement Israel’s control over it.

Israel will determine where, who, and how many will live in said homes — not the Palestinian Authority or the Palestinian people. Moreover, the cabinet approved the construction of several thousand homes in Jewish settlements in Area C. To be clear: this was the first step on the road to future Israeli annexation of Area C.

Senior Fatah legislator Azzam al-Ahmad said Wednesday that the Israeli government is striving to merge all the settlements and outposts in the West Bank into one bloc.

It is unclear exactly how accurate this statement is, but there is no doubt — especially given the latest remarks by Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich (United Right) on the issue — that he supports construction “as long as it serves the area’s original residents and is done solely in a way that serves Israel’s security and strategic interests” — that this move strives to thwart any chance of continuous Palestinian construction, as well as any possibility for a future Palestinian state.

Moreover, this decision goes beyond potential annexation, as it has been made against the backdrop of what appears to be the Palestinian Authority’s impending bankruptcy.

For months now, the Palestinian Authority has been on a path of economic ruin over PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept the taxes Israel collects on Ramallah’s behalf, which amount to more than $200 million a month.

Abbas’s decision, made after the Israeli government passed a law requiring that the amount of the monthly stipends paid to terrorists and their families by the PA be deducted from the taxes collected by Israel, has further strained the PA’s already dwindling coffers, making insolvency an actual prospect.

This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the Palestinian Authority is also on the brink of political and diplomatic bankruptcy.

Founded in 1994, with the aim of implementing the Oslo Accords, the PA is proving increasingly redundant with each passing year. Indeed, outside of security issues, the Trump administration has severed all diplomatic ties with Ramallah, as has the Israeli government.

Hamas, which ousted the PA from the Gaza Strip in a military coup in 2007, is pursuing completely independent policies in Gaza. Fatah, the organization at the PA’s core, has even lost its lead, in favor of Hamas, with respect to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where Hamas now champions the fight for the refugees’ social rights.

Many senior PA officials believe that the Trump administration, Israel, Hamas, and even several Arab countries (those that attended the Bahrain economic summit last month) are conspiring against the Palestinian Authority.

Last week, Abbas again warned that the Palestinians will stop implementing their agreements with Israel. The ramifications of this decision remain unclear, but it is safe to assume that the members of the PLO’s Executive Committee – some of whom may have hoped to put a resolution to that effect on the back burner – will now be overly eager to see it through. This is especially plausible, given this morning’s report by journalist Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Aharonoth, saying that Kushner intends to invite a host of Arab leaders to a summit at Camp David and present the “deal of the century,” even before the Israeli elections on September 17.

The wonderful service the Trump administration is planning to provide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election campaign aside, this move would deal the PA a particularly powerful sucker punch. Many Arab leaders are bound to feel obligated to attend the summit and hear the American president present his peace plan, but Abbas, even if invited, would most likely be absent, which would again render the Palestinian leader irrelevant.

Abbas may score some political points with the Palestinians for locking horns with Washington, but beyond that, he remains a lackluster leader – a “featherless chicken,” as the late prime minister Ariel Sharon once described him.

Many in Israel may welcome any move that undermines the Palestinian Authority, but its dismantling — sooner or later — is unlikely to serve Israel’s interests.

Overseeing the infrastructure, employment, education, health and welfare needs of the 2.8 million Palestinians living in the West Bank will prove to be a huge burden on Israel’s economy — and not one word on the implications such a move will have on the security coordination between the Israeli military and the Palestinian security forces.

The US and Israel may be trying to make Abbas sweat and force him to accept the “deal of the century,” but it is doubtful that will happen. The aging Palestinian leader, who will turn 84 in November, is known to be a particularly stubborn individual, and he is in no hurry to compromise his positions.

Finally, a post-Abbas era in which the Palestinian Authority is a thing of the past may present Israel with some of the most difficult security, economic and policy challenges it has ever known.

About the Author
Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.
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