Subscribe Today

WRMEA, December 1995, Pages 17, 89

Special Report

How Oslo II Carves Up the West Bank

By Frank Collins

Oslo II, the interim agreement signed by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Washington on Sept. 28, is best characterized as a document that guarantees the permanent presence of a dominant Israeli entity in the West Bank while the Palestinians are to be confined in enclaves, the ultimate boundaries of which are to be effectively determined by Israel. The Palestinians are to be given the right to manage their own affairs but only within limits set by Israel, as spelled out in Oslo II. Only the truly na¥ve can believe that, given the disparity of the bargaining powers of the parties, the "final status" agreement, yet to be negotiated, will be more favorable to the Palestinians than Oslo II, which was so laboriously negotiated between Israel with the powerful assistance of the pro-Israel United States, and the almost powerless Palestinian leader.

Careful reading of the main body of the Oslo II agreement can only lead to the conclusion that the result of the long negotiations is a pact highly advantageous to Israel. There are few options open to the Palestinians other than to object and then finally concur with the dictates of Israel.

The significant sections of Oslo II are those dealing with (1) the map, prepared by Israel, which outlines the preliminary division of the West Bank into Palestinian and Israeli areas, and (2) the arrangements for the redeployment of the Israeli army.

Less than 30 percent of the West Bank has been conceded by Israel to be Palestinian areas, while 70 percent of the West Bank will remain in Israeli hands—at least in the initial stage of the redeployment. As shown on the map, the Palestinian areas are broken up into more than 100 enclaves totally enclosed within the Israeli area and nowhere contiguous with the 1948 Green Line or with the Jordanian border. Bearing in mind the relatively small area of the West Bank, all of the Palestinian enclaves are very small.

The Oslo II document, together with its annexes, totals 460 pages. Final details of the map are reported to be still under discussion at the time of writing. Nevertheless, as the accompanying Sept. 28 version of the map makes clear, Oslo II divides the West Bank into three areas, A, B and C.

The black Areas (A) in the map are those of Palestinian cities. They will be areas of limited autonomy, with the exception of Hebron with its transplanted 450 Jewish settlers in the city center guarded by Israeli army and police units. The outlined Areas (B) are those in which most Palestinian villages, hamlets and refugee camps are located and in which about two-thirds of the Palestinian population resides. The final one-third of the Palestinians in the West Bank live outside Areas A and B. Civil affairs in areas A and B are to be administered by the Palestinian Council that will replace the present Palestinian Authority after the elections. The Israeli army will continue to handle security matters in Area B. The open area (C) is to be administered solely by Israel. All of the Jewish settlements are in Area C and are unaffected by Oslo II. They will be dealt with in the "final status" negotiations which are to begin no later than May 4, 1996, and are to be completed in 1999.

The Israeli military, Jewish settlers and Israeli civilians will have complete freedom of access to all parts of the West Bank. Some fears have been expressed about the freedom of Palestinian travel within the West Bank and the possibility of new roadblocks being set up at the boundaries of some of the enclaves.

The text of Oslo II covers the redeployment of the Israeli army and provides for a "first phase of the Israeli Military Forces Redeployment" to be followed by three further redeployments which are to commence after the inauguration of the elected Palestinian Council. The date of the election has been set for Jan. 20, requiring that the first phase of the deployment will have been completed by Dec. 30.

The sequence of redeployments in Area A began with Jenin, followed by Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilyah, Ramallah and Bethlehem. Redeployment from Hebron, complicated by the Israeli settler presence in the center of the city, will be delayed until March. Redeployment from the villages, hamlets and refugee camps in Area B commenced with the villages of Salfit and Yatta.

The three "further redeployments" of the Israeli army will be completed at six-month intervals. The first of these will be started after the inauguration of the Palestinian Council elected on Jan. 20. The remaining redeployments should be completed by August 1996.

This may be an optimistic estimate. Both negotiation and implementation of the Cairo pact covering the Gaza Strip and Jericho encountered extraordinary Israeli foot-dragging. Rabin said repeatedly that target dates appearing in that document and in the original Oslo agreement were not "holy dates." Thus Israel may likewise regard dates in the Oslo II agreements as targets rather than deadlines.

The election provided for in the Oslo II agreement will be for an 82-member Palestinian Council (PC) and for a ra'is (literally "head" or president). The Council will have an Executive Authority (EA), which will be the executive power in the autonomy government. The president will be an ex officio member of the EA and will have the right to appoint non-members of the PC to the EA of a number not to exceed 20 percent of the total membership of the EA.

In a bitterly resisted Israeli concession, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem won the right to vote in the election. According to the Hebrew press, the names of the candidates for office are to be submitted in advance to the Israeli authorities. The Israelis have imposed three requirements for the candidates: (1) The candidates must support the principles of the Oslo agreements (a condition obviously not imposed on candidates in the coming Israeli elections). (2) A candidate for the Council must have no record of terrorist activity. In view of traditional loose usage of the term"terrorist" by the Israelis, the manner in which this definition is applied will be important in preventing uncalled-for disqualification of worthy candidates. (3) Finally, candidates resident in Jerusalem must have another address in the West Bank outside Jerusalem, a particularly prejudicial requirement since East Jerusalem long has been the political center of the West Bank.

Yasser Arafat is almost certain to be elected as president. Since his return to Gaza, Arafat has made all appointments to the Palestinian Authority and its officialdom. He also is making all PA decisions, including quite trivial ones, even personally endorsing checks for all salary and other payments. Given his centralized way of doing business, it seems likely that he will expect to hand-pick candidates for the Fatah list for the Palestinian Council.

Arafat has exercised similarly tight control of the Arabic-language media in the occupied territories. Infractions of his control of newspapers have been followed by temporary suspensions of publication.

In addition, Israeli censorship of the English-language portion of the Palestinian press continues, as acknowledged by the important Palestinian Reports published in East Jerusalem. In the absence of freedom of the Palestinian media to present all shades of political opinion, the final results of the Palestinian election are likely to be the preservation of the existing political status quo.

No matter whether the Palestinian Council is authoritarian or democratic, the Israelis will have tight control over the legislation it passes. The Oslo II agreement states: "Legislation including legislation which amends or abrogates existing laws or military orders [which remain in effect in Gaza and the West Bank in spite of the autonomy], which exceeds the jurisdiction of the Council or which is otherwise inconsistent with the provisions of the Oslo Declaration of Principles, or any other agreement between the two sides during the interim period shall have no effect and shall be void ab initio." The Israeli side of the Legal Committee will be in effect the judge of what legislation is permissible and what is not. Thus the legislative power of the Palestinian Council is tightly circumscribed and the Palestinian police and Palestinian courts, in principle at least, will be required to enforce the laws of the occupation.

Palestinian Police

Oslo II places heavy emphasis on "a strong Palestinian police force." The maximum permitted strength of the Palestinian police in the West Bank has been quoted as 12,000. Oslo II, however, places severe restrictions on its activities in Area B.

Oslo II provides that "Israel will continue to carry responsibility for defense against external threats including the overall security of Israelis and settlements." Under present practices, the Palestinian police are not permitted to lay a hand on an Israeli, even though that person may be in the act of committing murder. The most a Palestinian policeman can do is to ask for the Israeli's ID and call the Israeli army.

The "Security" article in Oslo II calls for the Palestinian Authority and its successor, the Palestinian Council, to assume responsibility for internal security upon the redeployment from the Palestinian towns of Area A. The Israeli occupation authorities have abandoned for many months their responsibility for the maintenance of public order in Palestinian cities, except for Hebron, and the cities, especially Nablus, have become centers of anarchy where common criminals and lawless groups representing warring cliques within Fatah have made life miserable for ordinary citizens. The newly deployed Palestinian police will have the task of restoring law and order.

In the case of the B Areas, the article on Security omits mention of Palestinian police responsibility for internal security. Instead, the Article provides that the police will be confined to 25 stations and posts in the B Areas. The article goes on to say, "the movement of uniformed Palestinian police outside of places where there is a Palestinian police station or post will be carried out after coordination and confirmation" by the Israelis, although after three months this rule may be relaxed and Palestinian police movements may require only notification of the Israelis.

These limitations will greatly impede the ability of the Palestinian police to carry out their responsibility for public order. The initial redeployments of the Israeli army from the villages in Area B are being made without the replacement of the Israeli army by Palestinian police. If the Israeli-imposed restrictions on the movements of Palestinian police delay, for some indefinite time, their entry into the evacuated villages, these villages could sink into the state of near anarchy that now prevails in Palestinian cities. The restrictions on Palestinian police activities are part of the enlarged authority and diminished responsibility of the Israeli army in the B Areas under Oslo II.

Although the above-described division of authority and responsibilities for security and public order between the Israelis and Palestinians in the B Areas will remain fixed during the interim period, there also are provisions for important changes to take place during the interim period. The article entitled "Land" states: "'Area C' means areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B, which except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement." However, the land to be thus transferred will obviously contain no Jewish settlements, land for new and expanded settlements or land for bypass roads. There is nothing in the Oslo accords that prohibits or limits the confiscation of Palestinian land, nor its conversion to Israeli "state land" restricted for the use of Jews only. Nor is there anything in the accords that prevents Israel from annexing or virtually annexing parts of Area C near Jerusalem, the Green Line and the Jordan valley. In that case, the Palestinian enclaves of Area B may be allowed to grow, but the final map will have little resemblance to the original geography of the West Bank.

Frank Collins, a free-lance writer, divides his time between the U.S. national capital area and Jerusalem and the West Bank.