The Palestinian Authority has announced that it will cease to recognize the division of the West Bank into three areas of differing Israeli and Palestinian control, and will lay claim to the entire territory.
The pronouncement, if acted upon, will end the current division of the West Bank into areas A, B, and C, as set forth in the Oslo Accords, signed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in 1993 and 1995.
The news comes a month after PA President Mahmoud Abbas decided to halt all agreements with Israel, and several weeks after newly-appointed Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh tweeted that “we will deal with all the lands belonging to the State of Palestine as Area ‘A’, including occupied East Jerusalem.”
Israel does not respect any of the signed agreements and deals with the entire occupied Palestinian territory as Area "C". Accordingly, we will deal with all the lands belonging to the State of Palestine as Area “A”, including occupied East Jerusalem.
— Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh د. محمد اشتية (@DrShtayyeh) August 4, 2019
Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Area A comprises 18 percent of the West Bank, and includes all large Palestinian cities. This area is under the full control of the PA. Area B – 22 percent of the West Bank – is under Israeli security control and Palestinian administrative control. Area C occupies 60 percent of the West Bank’s land but is sparsely populated. This area is under full Israeli control, and has seen a controversial expansion of Israeli settlements since the 1980s.
Though the division is more than two decades old, it was originally intended to last for five years, until a more long-term peace agreement could be reached. That never happened, and the divisions have since become entrenched. As such, it remains unclear how the PA will exercise this newly-claimed authority, especially in the settlements of Area C and in East Jerusalem, which was not placed in any of the three categories by the accords in the first place.
Though Tel Aviv has yet to formally respond to the announcement, it is extremely unlikely that Israel will relinquish its control of Area C and East Jerusalem. Indeed, the policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been the exact opposite. The hardline leader has overseen a steady expansion of settlements and declared upon taking office in 2009 that “all of Jerusalem would always remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
Netanyahu also declared in June that any future peace deal must guarantee an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, which makes up much of Area C.
The Palestinian Authority has threatened to shred the Oslo Accords before, most notably in a 2015 speech before the United Nations General Assembly. His speech then was met with more shrugs than gasps, as the accords actually established the Palestinian Authority, and abandoning them would see Israel assume full occupation of the West Bank. A new, potentially fairer agreement would then have to be debated, but this agreement could see PA leaders lose power.
Unless Israel triggers conflict by annexing Area C completely, or the PA follows through on its declaration and attempts to reorganize the West Bank by force, the move will likely remain a symbolic one for now.
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