When Habayit Hayehudi party leader and rising political star Naftali Bennett calls for annexing Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli security and civil control, he is following the logic of every single Israeli government: maximize the territory, minimize the Arabs.
Some may even interpret this as elections propaganda in favor of Habayit Hayehudi and endorse it warmly.
Bennett can propose annexation because every governing coalition since the Six-Day War – whether it was led by the Likud or Labor (or its precursor, Alignment) party, and whether its partners were Mafdal, Shas or Meretz – laid the spiritual and policy groundwork for him.
According to Bennett, about 60 percent of the West Bank – a.k.a. Area C – is annexable. What's important about Area C is not whether 50,000 Palestinians live there, as democratic, benevolent Bennett claims, while suggesting to naturalize them and grant them Israeli citizenship, or whether the number is around 150,000 (as my colleague Chaim Levinson reminded us earlier this week).
Don’t worry. Even if there are 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C and all of them agree to become citizens, the Israeli bureaucracy will find ways to embitter their lives (the way it does the lives of the Bedouin in the Negev), revoke their citizenship (the way it does the residency status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem) and leave them without the little share of their land they still have (the way it did to the Palestinian citizens of Israel within the 1948 borders). This is why Bennett can allow himself to be munificent.
The true story behind area C is that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living there today; the villages have not expanded in accordance with their natural population growth; the number of residents has not grown; the herders can no longer graze their flocks freely; many of the inhabitants lack access to water, electricity, school and medical clinics; Israel has not been taken to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for destroying the cisterns; there are no paved roads in and between villages.
Many of the people have been living in tents and caves for 30 to 40 years – against their will and contrary to their hopes – and the Palestinian towns cannot expand properly and remove old industrial zones a reasonable distance from residential neighborhoods.
As I have said a million times and will say another million times: Area C is a tremendous success of Israeli policy and its implementers, the army and the Civil Administration. It is part of a farsighted, well-executed, perfectly thought-out policy that has succeeded precisely in that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living in the area. Bennett is probably decent/honest enough to acknowledge the debt he owes to the previous generations of Israeli politicians and military officials who warmed the country up for his annexation plan, ensuring its acceptance would be as effortless as a knife cutting butter in the sun.
Area C existed even before the Oslo negotiators invented the supposedly temporary division in 1995, distinguishing it from Area B, with full Israeli security control and partial policing authority and full civil authority for the Palestinians; and Area A, with full Palestinian civil and policing authority – albeit, as is often unappreciated, within an envelope of full Israeli security control.
When this division was being implemented, the media emphasized the difference between Area A, where armed members of the various Palestinian security forces could operate openly with license from Israel, and the rest of the Palestinian territories, where Palestinians would not be allowed to carry rifles. But in reality, the importance of Palestinian Authority policing powers is dwarfed in comparison with its lack of civilian authority over most of the land.
Area C, then, is shorthand for all the prohibitions that Israel imposes on Palestinian dignity of life, and it has existed before its invention. Live fire zones, military maneuver zones, security belts, fences, state lands, survey lands (where the state is in the process of declaring them as state lands, i.e. only for Jews), re-surveyed lands and post-surveyed lands and nature reserves. All these were aimed at concentrating them within narrow and meager Pales of Settlement (copyrights reserved for Imperial Russia and its confinement of the Jews). Unlike us, Arabs do not need space, land, resources, water, industrial zones, landscapes or recreational trips.
The Palestinian enclaves are the other side of Area C. Area C, then, is a metaphor for the Israeli ghetto mentality flipped. I usually take care not to use terms like “ghetto” or “concentration camp” to describe the enclaves where Israel has gathered the Palestinians from both sides of the Green Line, or 1948 armistice line, including the Gaza Strip and the slums of East Jerusalem. The 12 years of the Third Reich cemented these terms as links/stations in the conveyor leading to the final goal – a systematic genocide.
In our case, in contrast, ghettoization is itself the aim, having been implemented for the past 65 years. In other words, the aim – unfolded with the advent of time -has been to concentrate the Palestinians in reserves, after most of their land had been robbed of them. And if they desert and move abroad, it's of their own free will. A direct planning and ideological line stretches between the enclaves in which the Palestinian citizens of Israel live and those of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
This is the real Israeli historical compromise. It is not with the Palestinians, but with the dictates of reality and among the various Zionist ideological currents. The crowded, offensive reservations – the creation of which is violence, pure and simple – are a compromise between the craving to eject the Palestinians from their land and the recognition that regional and international conditions do not permit it.