A Palestinian boy rides a bicycle past tents in the West Bank village of Susiya June 24, 2012
A Palestinian boy rides a bicycle past tents in the West Bank village of Susiya June 24, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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The Foreign Ministry and Israel Defense Forces are considering imposing sanctions against a UN agency in the West Bank and Gaza following allegations that agency employees have engaged in illegal activity such as illegal construction.

As senior officials in Jerusalem put it, Israel wants to “reassess” the role in the West Bank of the agency, the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The two options under consideration are limiting the issuing of visas to OCHA employees and rescinding work and travel permits to local residents who work for OCHA.

Over the past six months, there has been a major deterioration in relations between OCHA and the Israeli government, a senior Israeli source said. Israeli officials have been furious over the conduct of OCHA staff in the part of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and military control.

Known as Area C, this area comprises 55 percent of the West Bank and includes the Jewish settlements, IDF firing ranges and most of the Jordan Valley and Judean Desert. It is estimated that about 120,000 Palestinian live in Area C.

The senior Israeli official said OCHA had promoted several projects in Area C without Israeli approval including illegal construction. Senior officers from the office of Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, asked OCHA’s director in Israel to immediately halt the illegal activities, but nothing has changed.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, COGAT, oversees civilian activities in the West Bank.

Israeli ire over the issue is so great that Dangot ordered a halt to all OCHA’s illegal project work and instructed that a demolition order be issued for any illegal construction. Dangot also asked that the Foreign Ministry lodge a formal complaint at the United Nations in New York.

About a week ago, officials from the Foreign Ministry, Dangot’s office and other ministries met to consider the sanctions against OCHA.

“OCHA’s activity harms other UN agencies helping the Palestinians,” a senior Israeli official said. “The agency encourages the delegitimization of Israel through false reports that it distributes to the entire international community, creating irreversible damage to the entire UN.”

On July 10, Israel’s UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, sent a harsh letter to the UN’s undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, Valerie Amos, who directly oversees OCHA. Prosor expressed Israel’s desire to put matters in order regarding OCHA’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza.

To read the full letter click here

According to Prosor, “since the beginning of OCHA’s operations in the PA [the Palestinian Authority], 12 years ago, its presence was never officially established,” Prosor wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz. He said Israel would like to start a “dialogue with OCHA in regard to its status and activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

According to Prosor, “In spite of its continual overtures, Israel has received only one statement that addresses OCHA’s actions and staff − a letter that dates back to 2004,” he wrote. He said the situation in the West Bank and Gaza had “changed considerably since then, and we therefore believe there is a need to review OCHA’s role in light of the current situation.”

Prosor asked Amos for a full list of OCHA’s staff and employees in the West Bank and Gaza, “including full name, location and job description.” He also asked for “a review of OCHA’s main activities in the past two years and its prediction for future activities.”

Prosor also requested clarifications about the roles played by OCHA and “other UN bodies providing assistance to the Palestinian population.” These other agencies include the the UN Relief and Works Agency, the UN Development Program, and the World Food Program.