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French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing lays on the ground after Israeli soldiers carried her out of her truck, in the West Bank herding community of Khirbet al-Makhoul, in the Jordan Valley, Sept. 20, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)

Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Comes to Head in Area C

Author: Daoud Kuttab Posted September 23, 2013

So long as Palestinian-Israeli negotiations are not producing an agreement, there is at least one area that will continue to be a powder keg: the Jordan Valley.

SummaryPrint The manhandling of EU diplomats by Israeli soldiers in the Jordan Valley is evidence of just how sensitive this area is to peace talks.
Author Daoud Kuttab Posted September 23, 2013

Actions on the ground in any conflict often reflect points of political disagreement. The US-sponsored negotiations, which are expected to last nine months, appear to have already brought to the surface sharp disagreement over one major issue: Who will eventually gain sovereignty over Area C?

Palestinian negotiators say Israeli insistence on retaining the Jordan Valley for another 40 years is complicating negotiations. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has brought the focus of attention to the major underdeveloped area in the West Bank. Over 60% of the West Bank was declared in Oslo’s interim agreement as under Israel's total administrative and security control.

However, Oslo’s five-year interim plan has dragged out for 20 years, and the number of settlers in the West Bank, who live mostly in Area C, has more than doubled in this period. The largest single segment of Area C is the Jordan Valley. On Sept. 15, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Jordan River the eastern border of the Palestinian state, but Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers do not appear to have paid much attention to Abbas’ proclamation.

The international community, especially the European Union, appears to back the Palestinians in their pursuit of incorporating the Jordan Valley into an independent Palestinian state. EU funding is targeting small Palestinian communities in the valley, much to the anger of settlers and the Israeli army. The Israeli policy of trying to empty this area of its Palestinian population came to a violent head last week when EU and International Red Cross (ICRC) staff tried to help out the residents of Khirbet al-Makhoul, where homes were destroyed by the Israeli army. Ten families, including 16 children, were made homeless by the destructive act. US economic plans are also giving Area C a lot of attention.

Soldiers trying to forcefully prevent the return of the Palestinians to their demolished homes also sought to prevent the ICRC from delivering tents to the homeless Palestinians. When that succeeded, EU diplomats stepped in to help out, only to be confronted by Israeli soldiers. The incident climaxed when Israeli soldiers manhandled the Europeans, including pushing a French diplomat to the ground. A photo taken by an aid worker showing Marion Fesneau-Castaing on the ground with an Israeli gun near her head made it to Reuters news agency and was distributed around the world.

Palestinian officials were quick to condemn the acts of the Israeli soldiers, noting that they reflect a governmental mentality that aims to rid the Palestinian areas of their Arab population. Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that the Israeli action is aimed at weakening Palestinian resolve to end the occupation.

Such clear violations of international protocol, in particular the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, however, did not bring about the usual insincere Israeli apology. Instead, the Israelis put the blame on the diplomats, claiming that they were acting illegally when the confrontation took place. The Israeli army claimed that it took action to prevent a joint EU-Palestinian effort to rebuild homes that were destroyed because they were built without a license.

Palestinian leaders and negotiators have repeatedly brought attention to Israeli attempts to deny Palestinians the right to develop the strategic Jordan Valley. The violence in the Jordan Valley reflects a lack of understanding inside the negotiating room. US officials, who have been prevented by Israel from being present at the negotiations, will brief US President Barack Obama on the progress of the talks prior to his upcoming meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has evolved over the years from the struggle over the right of return of pre-1967 Palestinian refugees to the relatively nonviolent resistance during the first intifada demanding the ending the Israeli occupation, and then to the creation of an independent sovereign Palestinian state. With Israel out of Gaza and Palestinians mostly content with a two-state solution that gives them 22% of historic Palestine, the struggle is now focused on one of the remaining flashpoints, the Jordan Valley. Resolving this sovereignty issue over Area C will no doubt help hasten the political agreement.

Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/09/jordan-valley-khirbet-makhoul-palestine.html

Daoud Kuttab
Columnist 

Daoud Kuttab is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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