The occupied West Bank was divided into three areas – A, B and C – as part of the Oslo Accords, signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in 1993 and 1995.
The agreements led to the establishment of an interim Palestinian government – the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was granted limited powers of governance in Areas A and B.
They were also meant to kick-start future peace talks brokered by the United States, with a two-state solution as the desired objective of negotiations.
But the outcomes of the Oslo Accords have instead left Israel in complete control of the Palestinian economy, as well as its civil and security matters in more than 60 percent of the West Bank, designated as Area C.
Despite granting the interim government control over administrative and internal security matters in parts of the West Bank, Israel maintains military control over the entire area.
Efforts to strike a comprehensive peace deal over the years have proven fruitless, leaving the Palestinians with a provisional self-governing authority that has been unable to prevent Israeli expansion.
Israel has since undertaken the further expansion of settlements in the territories it occupied in 1967, including parts of East Jerusalem – which it annexed shortly after the war it fought with Egypt, Jordan and Syria that year.
The UN and international rights groups have condemned the settlement expansion project, declaring settlements illegal under international law.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently pledged to annex parts of Area C – the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea region. Some 65,000 Palestinians and about 11,000 Israeli settlers live in that region.
The Jordan Valley is considered the most fertile land in the West Bank and has proven lucrative for Israeli companies that have long exploited the area’s land and resources.
Annexing settlements – and the surrounding Palestinian villages – could well be the end of any lingering hopes of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
To understand what a formal annexation would mean, here is a breakdown of the three areas that make up the West Bank:
Areas A, B and C
Today, Area A constitutes 18 percent of the West Bank. The PA controls most affairs in this area, including internal security.
In Area B, which comprises about 21 percent of the West Bank, the PA controls education, health and the economy.
In both areas, Israeli authorities have full external security control.
This means that the Israeli military retains the right to enter these areas at any time, typically to raid homes or detain individuals under the pretext of security.
About 2.8 million Palestinians live crowded into Areas A and B whose major Palestinian cities and towns are Hebron, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus.
Area C is the largest section of the West Bank, comprising about 60 percent of the Palestinian territory.
It is also the site of the vast majority of the more than 200 illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, where more than 400,000 settlers live.
Although control of part of this area was meant to be transferred to the PA in 1999 as per the Oslo Accords, the handover did not materialise, leaving security, planning and construction matters in the hands of Israel.
Blocking Palestinian development
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, says Israel has restricted Palestinians from building on, or even accessing, much of the land in Area C, regularly denying requests for building permits.
Palestinians who attempt to build in the area are subject to home demolition orders, resulting in displacement and the disruption of livelihoods, the UN has said.
Israel’s blocking of Palestinian development in the area is also carried out by “designating large swaths of land as state land, survey land, firing zones, nature reserves and national parks,” the rights group says.
Israeli settlements are meanwhile allocated large plots of land that are connected to advanced infrastructure, such as Jewish-only bypass roads that circumvent Palestinian areas.
In addition to facing severe restrictions on planning and construction, Palestinians are also unable to access basic resources such as water.
The end result may well be the indirect expulsion of Palestinians from an area that is currently being used to serve Israeli purposes.
According to B’Tselem, the forcible transfer of Palestinians from occupied territory is considered a war crime, whether executed in a direct or indirect manner.