Construction in Area C, funded by Germany
Construction in Area C, funded by Germany Hezki Baruch

What’s going on in Area C?

That was the question we posed to Gilad Ach, director of the Ad Kan non-profit organization, and the answer we received was shocking indeed.

According to Ach, while Jewish construction in Area C has been severely curtailed if not outright frozen during recent years, Palestinian construction under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority is going right ahead, funded by member countries of the European Union.

Area C is under effective Israeli control and in the event of a future peace deal will likely be included within Israel’s sovereign borders. This hasn’t stopped countries like Germany and Great Britain from transferring huge sums of money to the PA to be used for Palestinian construction in Area C. The latest instalment of a hundred million Euros comes from Germany, and on the Israeli side, no one is doing anything about it whatsoever.

This is an old story, even if you’re hearing it now for the first time, Ach tells Arutz Sheva. It goes back to 2012, when a number of EU countries (primarily Great Britain and Germany) decided to convert the humanitarian aid they were transferring to the PA into practical assistance toward establishing a de facto Palestinian state, “without taking into account the views of the State of Israel on the matter – in fact, without even informing us of what they were intending to do.

“To date, EU member countries have transferred around 120 million Euros toward building in Area C,” Ach continues. “From their perspective, the battle is already over in Areas A and B, and now they’ve moved on to take control over areas that were designated as Israeli-controlled in the Oslo Agreements. They don’t care about that – they’re going right ahead and actually building a Palestinian state right in the middle of Area C.”

Ach explains that the latest instalment of 100 million Euros is part of a wider investment plan totaling three billion Euros, budgeted until 2030 to advance the building of a Palestinian state.

The Ad Kan organization has compiled a wide-ranging report on the EU grants and other related arrangements made between the countries, concerning construction plans, financing, and other matters. France, for example, has been allotted the area between Efrat and Tekoa; Belgium received eastern Gush Etzion; and so forth. Ach notes that included among the areas parceled out among the EU countries is East Jerusalem.

Once allotted its sphere of influence, each country develops its own plan for the Palestinian Authority to implement and then authorizes a budget to be used toward construction. What they actually do with their areas depends on the nature of the land in question. Sometimes the land is considered virtually worthless and unsuited for development; other times, settlements might already exist there.

The European countries send over their experts who hire local engineers and architects to assist with the planning. Then they send over the money. Nowhere is Israel part of the picture, even though the Civil Administration is actually the sovereign entity in Area C. “They don’t care about such niceties,” Ach says. “They do whatever they want, regardless.”

The funds are funneled through PA engineer Jihad Rabia, who heads a local office under the jurisdiction of the PA. Rabia receives the plans and then implements them. “He’s the one who transfers the funds to local contractors, and then building starts,” Ach describes.

“Plenty of money has already been transferred,” he notes. “What’s different in 2021 is that they made the decision to move from pilot plan to implementation, and then wait to see the Israeli response to actual construction. This is now happening before our very eyes.”

And what is the Israeli response?

Information on what goes on in Area C is transferred to all the relevant security organizations – the Shabak, the National Security Council, the Central Command, and others – “and then, lo and behold, nothing happens,” Ach relates. “Shabak is busy with foiling terrorist plots and other things; the NSA has its own other worries to take care of; even the Central Command is apparently not responsible for Area C, so although bits and pieces of the picture are known and reported on, no one has the full picture and certainly no one is dealing with the full picture. Everything just slips by under the radar.”

Ach recalls that a report on construction in Area C was actually commissioned and completed by the Intelligence Ministry during the previous government, under Minister Eli Cohen, but he adds that he has no idea if anything was ever done about it. When asked if there actually is anything Israel can do to at least protest if not block the EU initiatives, he insists that determined action is possible.

“Israel has diplomatic relations with these European nations, and Israel can simply remind them of mutual trade agreements that both sides benefit from, and note that we can’t continue to respect those agreements if EU nations are harming our sovereignty and pouring hundreds of millions of Euros into Area C without taking our interests into account, without getting any form of authorization. This isn’t how trading partners behave.

“Aside from that,” he adds, “this is illegal construction we’re talking about. None of it has gone through the regular channels of obtaining planning permission and so forth from the Civil Administration. They are appropriating territory, designating it for whatever purposes they decide on, and building home after home, entire neighborhoods even. And we’re not seeing any Israeli enforcement of the law due to the pressure on the part of the Europeans to turn a blind eye to what’s going on. The Palestinians told us this explicitly – they know that even if the Civil Administration does try to get involved, all they have to do is appeal to the EU which will exert diplomatic pressure and end of story. The government is simply afraid to get involved, even in Area C.”

As far as breaking Israeli law goes, the EU is obviously doing so without compunction; however, their actions also contravene the Oslo Agreements – so how do they justify that?

“I imagine that if they were asked, they would explain that Oslo was meant to be an interim agreement on the way to a final-status settlement, and that since no progress has been made for years toward that final-status agreement, they got fed up with waiting and decided to take matters into their own hands.”

And what about the current Israeli government? Will the “government of change” make changes here?

“Everyone in the current government is well aware of what’s going on,” Ach stresses. “But from knowing about something to doing something about it is a long, long way.”