RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel is racing against time ahead of its target for a vote to annex areas in the West Bank in early July.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz instructed Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi on June 1 to prepare for escalation scenarios as Israel advances plans on annexing parts of the West Bank.
Palestinians say they have noticed a rise in Israeli abuses lately, which include land expropriation and leveling, in addition to destruction of houses. These steps appear to be paving the way for the annexation of several target locations, such as the Jordan Valley and the areas surrounding Israeli settlements, all which are located in Area C as per the Oslo Accords and constitute around 60% of the surface area of the West Bank.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a videoconference speech during the June 2 Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting, “The annexation plans are no longer a mere declaration. Israel has started implementing them effectively by sending electricity bills directly to municipal councils in the Jordan Valley and removing signs" denoting that certain areas were Palestinian.
According to the monthly report issued in May by the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department, Israel killed four Palestinians in the West Bank in May and committed 54 attacks and acts of destruction of citizens’ property through damaging people’s houses and vehicles, plucking out olive trees, destroying sheds, expropriating three pieces of land and destroying nine houses. Settlers committed around 44 attacks, according to the report.
Furush Beit Dajan village to the east of Nablus in the northern West Bank is one of the areas threatened with annexation. On May 27, the Israeli army demolished a house under construction, saying it did not have a construction permit. On the same day, a touristic resort in Zawata in the west of Nablus was destroyed, along with a touristic facility under construction in Sebastia town north of Nablus.
Azem al-Haj Mohammad, head of the village council in Furush Beit Dajan, said Israel recently stepped up its campaign against Palestinian citizens and their properties to implement the annexation. He added that Israel notified the owners of more than 40 houses and facilities in the previous months that it would destroy the structures. Israel also prohibited construction in the village, according to Mohammad.
Mohammad said that around 1,200 Palestinians live in the village and own 300 tents and other homes, and they are currently facing an unknown fate with the looming implementation of Israel’s annexation plans.
Since early May, Israeli attacks have been on the rise on residential areas in the Jordan Valley. On June 1, the army launched a military campaign described by some as the worst and most violent in years. It targeted water networks, confiscated equipment and destroyed and confiscated 15 vegetable stalls in Bardala in the northern Jordan Valley. It also destroyed 800 meters (2,600 feet) of water lines that supply water to citizens.
On June 3, Israeli forces destroyed five houses and two sheep sheds and seized their equipment in Deir Hajla Bedouin area in the east of Jericho. On the same day, the forces destroyed four houses and five residential tents in Masafer Yatta in the southern West Bank.
Moataz Basharat, an official in charge of the Jordan Valley file in Tubas governorate, told Al-Monitor that the Israeli practices confirm that the annexation has effectively started. The Israeli police led raids and engaged in the destruction of houses, confiscations and the handing of notices to Jordan Valley inhabitants in the presence of employees of the Israeli Civil Administration, which handled this task in the past.
Basharat said police notified several Bardala and Ain al-Baida inhabitants in the Jordan Valley on June 2 to settle their legal situation as they would soon be under Israeli laws. Israeli authorities also removed banners they had set up at the entrances of some villages such as Bardala and Ain al-Bayda or at the military Tayasir checkpoint that warned settlers not to enter because they were Palestinian areas.
In a first of its kind incident, the Israeli Civil Administration delivered to some village councils in the Jordan Valley direct financial requests to increase the electric current feeding the village. Fasayel Ibrahim Obayat, head of a village council in the Jordan Valley, told Al-Monitor that he received a notice from the electricity official at the Israeli Civil Administration on May 26 asking him to pay 340,000 shekels ($97,000). A similar notice to pay 470,000 shekels ($136,000) was delivered to the head of al-Zubeidat village council.
Israel sees the Jordan Valley as important in terms of economics and security. It has built 37 settlements or outposts in the Jordan Valley, most of which are agricultural and generate profits worth millions of dollars. At the security level, Israel considers the Jordan Valley its eastern border. Israel has said it would not give up this area in any potential peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Israel's insistence on keeping the Jordan Valley under its control is underlined by the fact that 88.3% of it is classified as Area C.
Netanyahu announced June 2 ongoing talks with the US administration about the Israeli government’s annexation plan, in line with US peace plan. At the same time, Israel seems to be speeding up imposition of its sovereignty and laws over Palestinian areas as Palestinians await their fate.