Amos Biderman
Illustration: Amos Biderman
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The director of an international organization working in the occupied territories told me he was recently asked by an IDF officer the meaning of the terms "Areas A, B and C." Naturally, the NGO head answered that according to the Oslo Accords, A is the area under Palestinian civil and military control; B is under Palestinian civil control but Israeli military control; and C is under complete Israeli control.

"You are wrong," the Israeli officer laughed. "A is for Arafat, B is for bollixed up and C is ours" (in what language, I wonder ). But anyone familiar with the situation on the West Bank, such as Yossi Beilin, knows this is no joke. The Israeli political and security establishment, as well as the legal system, view Area C - spreading over 60 percent of the West Bank - as an integral part of Israel. This is one reason why Beilin has suggested to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to bury the Oslo agreements, the baby at whose birth they were present nearly 19 years ago.

When Beilin convinced Yitzhak Rabin to shake Yasser Arafat's hand, then-opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu was already marching in front of the coffin symbolizing the end of the accords. Even in his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu understood that the terms of Oslo were a precious etrog to be preserved in thick layers of cotton, but not to be eaten. The division into three areas of control, meant as a temporary, transitional stage on the way to a final agreement, turned into a "legal" repository for the settlement enterprise.

Upon his return as prime minister three years ago, Netanyahu got back Area C with any number of improvements; the designers of Ariel Sharon's separation wall set their sights 10 years ago on scattered parts of Area B. The settlers saw that it was good, and facts on the ground followed, with and without aid from the state.

Wheels of West Bank justice

It's now been six years since an investigation into the building of hundreds of illegal apartments in the Matitiyahu East neighborhood in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Upper Modi'in. In April 2006, the State Prosecutor's Office informed the High Court of Justice that the police fraud unit had opened a criminal investigation of local council head Yaakov Gutterman (now mayor ); developers and large building firms; Jewish land dealers who had acquired private Palestinian land; and lawyers and settler organizations involved in what they termed the "redemption" of land. As reported then in Haaretz, the petitioners - Peace Now and residents of the village of Bil'in (in Area B ), on whose land the neighborhood was built and the route of the separation wall set - gave the court land sale contracts suspected of being forged.

Explaining the length of the investigation, a Justice Ministry spokesman told Haaretz a new file was recently added to the case and new evidence came to light a few months ago. "The State Prosecutor's Office is aware of the length of this investigation," the spokesman said, "and is exerting much effort and continuing to examine it all the time, but has not yet come to a decision."

We will wait patiently, but can't be sure that Abbas will wait until Netanyahu and the settlers have fully marked the territory of Area C. According to Abbas' plan, after a large majority of UN member nations recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the Palestinian Authority will announce that all the territory east of the Green Line belongs to Palestine, without distinguishing between Arafat, what's bollixed up and what's "ours."

Going over attorney general's head

The problem with Area C is that Palestinians who happen to live there find it hard to understand that the land is "ours," and they insist on remaining. Most of the residents have documents that testify to their ownership of land that has been annexed by settler outposts. Even the Israeli attorney general can't make these lands "ours." To get around this obstacle, Netanyahu set up a committee in January to examine the status of land in the West Bank. Headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, the panel has invited testimony from several human rights organizations, including Peace Now, B'Tselem and Yesh Din.

This week Yesh Din, whose name translates roughly to "the law exists" or "judgment exists," prohibited its members from cooperating with the committee, which it considers illegitimate because it bypasses and challenges the authority of the attorney general. A letter to this effect, sent by Yesh Din board chairman Yair Rotlevy, notes that the Shamgar Committee (which sought to reform the process of appointing the attorney general, following the Bar-On/Hebron affair ) decided in 1998 that the attorney general is the government's authorized and most senior interpreter of the law applying to all governmental branches, and that unless a court has ruled on an issue, the attorney general's opinion is the government's official one. The Shamgar Committee, which included three former justice ministers, decided that the government could not accept any external advice without the agreement of the attorney general.

Yesh Din's leaders say in their letter that as far as they know, the Levy committee was not created with the knowledge of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who has also informed Netanyahu that the committee's recommendations will not be binding on him or his office. Former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair of the Yesh Din board told Haaretz on Monday that in Weinstein's place, he would have announced at the outset that he does not require the committee's advice even it turns out to be close to his own position. He said the committee's establishment infringes on the standing of the 350 employees of the Attorney General's Office.