by: Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update
Area A, Area B and Area C—no, these are not part of a children’s rhyme or spy codenames. They are actually terms referring to who controls what in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank), which has had a major impact on Israel’s security in the last 20 years. Originally intended to be a roadmap for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Areas A, B and C are now raising serious security concerns. However, they continue to be a topic for potential territorial compromise by Israel to try and restart peace talks. It’s not as basic as the alphabet, but these names do highlight the fundamental questions of how Israel can finally achieve peace.
Areas A, B and C were originally part of the Oslo Accords Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in 1995. According to the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, Area A was designed to be a territory inside Judea and Samaria in which the Palestinian government was to hold the powers of “internal security and public order.” In layman’s terms, that’s “full Palestinian civil and security control” according to a map published in 2011 by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In Area B, the agreement said the Palestinian government was to hold “responsibility for public order,” while the Israelis were to have the “overriding responsibility” for protecting Israelis and fighting terrorism. OCHA called that “joint Israeli-Palestinian security control.” Areas A and B, then, were intended to be under Palestinian civil control, and include places like Nablus (the biblical city of Shechem), Bethlehem and part of Hebron.
Area C, meanwhile, refers to the remaining territory in Judea and Samaria, including settlements. The intent was that it all was to be transferred to the Palestinians, pending the status of negotiations. Without a final agreement, and following years of conflict, that full territorial transfer never happened. In 2011, OCHA described Area C as “full Israeli control over security, planning and construction.”
So declaring Areas A, B and C, in effect formalized control of territory into Palestinian hands and in some cases handed over security powers as well. Had things gone as planned, Israel would have eventually given up even more.
The ABC system didn’t even last a decade before violence forced Israel to intervene. Retired Lt. Col. and former IDF spokesman Peter Lerner told The Mideast Update that in the initial years of implementing Area A, it “evolved into cities of refuge and staging grounds for a brutal wave of organized terror, suicide bombings and mass killings. The sanctity of area A was maintained until 2002, when the IDF was ordered to maneuver into that area and defeat the terrorist infrastructure.” In April 2016, the Israeli security leadership, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reaffirmed that the IDF would enter Area A as needed.
Yishai Fleisher, international spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron—a city divided amongst Areas A and C—also expressed serious security concerns about the handover of territory. “Our security situation became much worse because we gave it over to—anybody really—but in this case it was to somebody who was involved with jihadism against Israel,” said Fleisher in an interview with The Mideast Update. “…They were wolves in sheep’s clothing, the people that we gave this land to.” Fleisher pointed to terrorists in Gaza, Lebanon, the Sinai region of Egypt, Hebron and Nablus as examples of how jihadists have ultimately used the territory given over by Israel.
Lerner said that he believes Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces have “made huge strides of professionalism, capabilities and motivation,” but there remain political concerns with sharing security control with the PA. He pointed to the PA’s recent halting of security coordination and efforts to reconcile with Hamas. “In my opinion, in today’s political atmosphere, regional turmoil and general unpredictability, no Israeli leadership will be willing to cede the security of Israeli lives to a Palestinian force,” said Lerner, who was commenting only on security issues.
Beyond the immediate practical impact, Fleisher expressed additional concerns. He said that handing over control of territory to the Palestinians has served as a “motivator” and “gave a tremendous boost to jihadist thinking.” When Fleisher speaks with a jihadist about Israel’s miraculous victories, Fleisher said the response is, “Yes, but you have been shrinking, and therefore that says to me, wait you out, keep pushing either by war or by ‘peace’…and we will defeat you in the end.”
Al-Monitor has reported that an American peace plan called for Israel to hand over some limited control in Area C to the Palestinians as a concession to jumpstart dormant peace talks. However, Fleisher has a different vision of the best approach moving forward. He calls for Israel to reverse the A, B and C system entirely and to annex back Judea and Samaria. Regarding the Arabs who live there, he said Israel should also “figure out a formula by which we’re going to give people upward mobility and decency and rights, but without endangering our security” and status as a Jewish state, which he compared to Japan being a Japanese state.
While the Arab states continue to insist on setting up a Palestinian state, Fleisher believes that things are changing in terms of views about Israel, and that the Jewish state should take the opportunity to change the narrative. Echoing similar comments by Netanyahu, Fleisher said that there are “many voices in the Arab world” who want good relations with Israel against the backdrop of the mutual Iranian threat.
Said Fleisher, “They are coming to some kind of détente with that concept that Israel is here to stay…and [so] Israel should slow down, and not rush to give away parts of its land in hope of appeasing, but rather hold on, be strong—send the signal that we’re here to stay.”
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