Photo Credit: Pini Rotter
Some of the illegal Arab construction encircling the town of Efrat in Gush Etzion.

The Knesset’s Land of Israel Lobby convened on Monday for another emergency session on the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) strategic illegal takeover of Area C in Judea and Samaria, which is under full Israel control.

The Regavim Movement, which combats illegal takeover of Israel’s state lands, revealed to the Knesset new mapping data on the frightening scope of the phenomenon, including the extent of illegal Arab construction in the area.

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Between the years 2019-2021, the Arabs built 5,097 new illegal structures, in areas under the full control of the State of Israel. This means that every day, about seven new illegal buildings are added to the area. The total number of illegal Arab buildings built in Area C over the last decade is now up to 72,274.

At the same time, a PA-guided agricultural takeover of 7,125 dunams of land under Israeli control was recorded during this two-year period, reaching a total of 93,071 dunams.

Agricultural activities include cultivating huge areas, planting hundreds of thousands of trees each year, paving agricultural roads at an annual volume of tens of kilometers, and digging water cisterns for irrigation. When continuous agricultural cultivation is carried out, the land actually passes into the hands of the Arab farmers.

However, the data show a certain decrease in the volume of illegal Arab construction from the corresponding period between 2017 and 2019, when 7,957 new illegal structures were erected, 11 structures per day, on average. The agricultural takeover of the land remains almost the same.

One of the explanations given by Regavim for the decrease in the volume of construction versus the steady volume of agricultural takeover is the decision of the European Union (EU) to transfer the weight of its financial aid, and instead of its funds being used for new construction, they are being used to fund the battle against Israeli law enforcement actions taken against illegal construction. The funds are also being routed by the EU for the benefit of the agricultural takeover, which occupies the maximum area with minimum investment.

The EU donates tens of millions a year to the PA’s illegal action in Area C.

“The Palestinian Authority is shaping the borders of the Palestinian state with its own hands and setting facts for Israel on the ground. This is a first-class strategic event, which the recent Israeli governments have responded to with inaction. It is a failure on the scale of the Yom Kippur War,” said Meir Deutsch, CEO of Regavim.

Head of the Lobby Member of Knesset (MK) Yoav Kish accused Minister of Defense Benny Gantz of “harming the protection of the Land of Israel” and demanded that the government change its policy.

He warned that if the government does not act now, “we will have nothing to do in the years to come. We must stop the loss of territory, the only way to change the trend is a central focus of the government, the appointment of a project manager, and a change in the conduct of the defense minister approving takeover plans through the Civil Administration.”

Israel has rapidly been losing lands in area C to European Union-funded illegal construction projected executed by the PA.

In 2009, then-prime minister of the PA Salaam Fayyad laid out the Plan for the Creation of the State of Palestine, a methodical program for seizing control of territory in Area C, under full Israeli control as prescribed by the Oslo Accords, to form a broad and viable basis for a Palestinian state, specifically in the areas under Israeli control.

Fayyad’s plan essentially bypasses all negotiations or compromises with Israel and creates facts on the ground.

While serving as Defense Minister in 2019, Naftali Bennett threatened to demolish any illegal Arab construction in Area C, even if it was funded by the EU.

In response to an inquiry on the issue by TPS, a senior official in the Defense Ministry stated that the “phenomenon of illegal Palestinian construction in Area C is one of the main issues that Defense Minister Bennett is dealing with, and he has already begun to work to eradicate the phenomenon.”

At his meeting with EU ambassadors in December 2019, Bennett told the ambassadors that “illegal construction in their financing would be destroyed by Israel” and made it clear that “his position on the issue was unequivocal.”

However, he has failed to act on his pledges.

MK Orit Strook pointed out that “Israel is in retreat all the time, through inaction, and in the last year since Benny Gantz became defense minister – also by helping the enemy in the war: in whitewashing Palestinian illegal outposts, including in strategic areas.”

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.