HEBRON, Israel — Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman granted Aug. 29 hundreds of Jewish settlers in settlements in the Old City of Hebron independence from the city’s municipality affiliated with the Palestinian Authority (PA). His decision raised Palestinian public and official ire due to its serious repercussions on the city’s already deteriorating geographic and humanitarian situation.
Liberman’s move would lead to the establishment of an Israeli-run municipality. Settlers would receive services from Israeli authorities, whereas they were previously tied to the Palestinian-run municipality of Hebron granting services to Palestinian residents and settlers alike.
Sara Daajna, a resident of the Old City of Hebron, said that the decision pushed Palestinian governmental, factional and civil associations in Hebron to call for meetings because they know the bad implications of the Israeli decision on the citizens. As per the decision, Israel would take administrative control thus preventing the Palestinian-run municipality from providing services due to obstacles from settlers after establishing a new Israel municipality in the Old City of Hebron, she told Al-Monitor.
Daajna said, “The Israeli decision aims at implementing the settlement vision to evacuate the Old City of its citizens and Judaize it, and thus transfer the privileges of Palestinian citizens and Jewish settlers to Israelis. The new decision is dangerous, and everyone [involved] should be held accountable.”
Daajna said that the repercussions of the decision on the ground will be worse than ever, noting, "The Israeli blockade on the Old City of Hebron persists as dozens of checkpoints are spread throughout. Citizens are facing a clampdown, and the decision will add insult to injury.”
Walid Assaf, the head of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor that the Israeli decision will divide Hebron and pave the way for the Judaization and division of the Old City.
Assaf said, “The decision will affect the lives of thousands of citizens in the Old City and its surroundings as well as the workers and home owners. It will also affect the interaction between the different neighborhoods of Hebron and will strip the municipality of its properties and transfer them to settlers as per the comprehensive settlement plan. It will also increase pressure on citizens to expel and forcibly displace them.”
In January 1997, the PA signed the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron with Israel to divide the security control of the city. Area H1 was put under the security and administrative control of the PA, while Area H2 falls under the Palestinian administrative control and Israeli security grip, in the presence of international observers. The Old City is located in Area H2, where Jewish settlers and Palestinian citizens live.
The director of the legal department of the Gaza-based International Commission to Support Palestinian People's Rights, Islam Sukkar, told Al-Monitor, “Israel’s latest decision annuls the protocol it signed with the PA and transfers the Palestinian administrative control to a municipality Israel will build for settlers in Hebron.”
He added, “The illegal measures and policies that Israel took against Palestinian citizens and land by transferring some settlers to the Palestinian territories and expelling the citizens of the occupied land violate the provisions of international law and the United Nations resolutions, as well as the PA-Israel agreements such as the Hebron protocol. Legally, this shows that Israel does not respect bilateral understandings.”
Sukkar believes the Israeli decision proves that the presence of Israeli settlers in Hebron reflects Israel’s serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention provisions (1949) and the additional first protocol appended to it, describing it is a war crime.
Sukkar added that the Israelis will suffer the consequences of their decision, saying, “The implementation of the decision will prevent the Hebron municipality from providing the needed protection for the city. It will also grant the settlers’ municipality the right to own lands, properties and spaces, under the pretext of public interest when in fact its objectives are settlement expansion, imposing taxes on Palestinian citizens, restricting their movement and isolating them from the other parts of Hebron.”
Bilal al-Shawbaki, the head of the political sciences department at the faculty of law and political sciences at Hebron University, told Al-Monitor, “Israel wants to tell Palestinians that it will continue entrenching its powers and undermining Palestinian existence.”
He added, “The negotiations and a settlement as an option to manage relations between Israel and Palestinians have gone downhill. What’s worse, the recent Israeli policy is aimed at winning over the extreme right in Israel and promoting the stability of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.”
Shawbaki noted that the PA cannot do much on the ground in its current structure. It can, however, take serious steps to financially support the citizens of the Old City and Tel Rumeida in Hebron.
He added, “The PA should announce new options beyond the two-state solution and should take advantage of the Israeli policies to justify its new stance before the international community. However, Israel is still safe from any serious international action to control it.”
Member of the PLO's Central Committee Ahmad Majdalani told Al-Monitor, “Israel’s new decision is different from past ones. The settlers’ municipality to be established has the right to use the properties of absent citizens. Each empty house would be under the control of settlers who barely amount to 400 people. This aims at connecting the Old City to Kiryat Arba [Israeli settlement on the outskirts of Hebron] and expanding the settlement space to reach the center of Hebron.”
He noted, “The PA needs to take serious steps; condemnation and disdain are no longer sufficient. New sanctions must be imposed on Israel, and it must be held accountable. The PA is moving on all levels, which is pivotal. The United States is playing a key role in convincing Israel to halt settlements, and the door is open for the PA to address human rights groups and the International Criminal Court.”