Oslo Accords Spared Israel From Handling Coronavirus in West Bank

If not for Palestinian self-ruled enclaves, Israelis and Palestinians would have had endless points of encounter and potential for friction, over everything from eggplants to masks

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A Magen David Adom paramedic collects a swab sample from a Palestinian at a mobile testing station for COVID-19 in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem on July 20, 2020
A Magen David Adom paramedic collects a swab sample from a Palestinian at a mobile testing station for COVID-19 in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem on July 20, 2020Credit: AFP

Every morning, adherents of the right should bless the Oslo Accords and its Israeli architects, instead of spitting at them. Take the coronavirus, for example. Had the style of Jewish rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank remained as it was in March 1994, in other words, direct and without the mediation of the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli authorities would have been responsible for addressing health-related issues and the economy during the pandemic, in all the territories occupied in 1967.

It would be Israel rather than the PA, which would not exist, that would be responsible logistically and substantively for testing, tracking, treating the sick, and allocating hotels for quarantine in the West Bank. It would not be the PA in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza that would be confronting the desperate, angry and hungry people, but the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service, without the shield of the Palestinian security and civilian agencies.

Concern for the health and welfare of the Palestinians would not and does not cause the Israeli authorities to lose any sleep. But in a direct occupation, there would be far more points of encounter and friction between Palestinians and Israelis, and that would be worrisome because of our own welfare – that of the Jews.

Just imagine our young children, armed policemen and soldiers, posted on bases inside the cities of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, patrolling the crowded streets, demanding that every suspiciously young or bearded person they encounter show them ID; imagine them trying to enforce the coronavirus-curfew directives or even more complicated – wearing a mask. If Jewish policemen beat up recalcitrant Jewish citizens in the streets of Israel, imagine what they might do in the streets of Jenin, and what turmoil would ensue.

Magen David Adom collects a swab sample from a Palestinian woman at a mobile testing station for COVID-19 in Sheikh Jarrah
Magen David Adom collects a swab sample from a Palestinian woman at a mobile testing station for COVID-19 in Sheikh JarrahCredit: AFP

Imagine the offices of the Civil Administration packed with officials and with people coming to arrange their day-to-day affairs, the second the coronavirus lockdown was lifted: to submit a request to be connected to the internet, to schedule an appointment for a driving test, to request an extension of a wife’s residence permit (a wife who is legally married to the petitioner), to be tested by an education staff officer and the Shin Bet to get a job at a government school, to come time and again, to receive for a tradesman’s permit, to request a permit to renovate the house or to add a story for a son who is getting married or to open a travel agency. Or to request a permit to build a hothouse for cucumbers and tomatoes on family-owned land, to plant trees or to change the type of agricultural crop.

Yes, even a permit for vegetables and trees. There had been such a thing. Directive No. 1015 regarding supervision over fruit trees and vegetables, signed by the commander of IDF forces in the West Bank, Maj. Gen. Ori Orr, on August 27, 1982 (his successor, Maj. Gen. Amnon Shahak, signed an amendment in August 1985.) And this is part of the text of the directive:

“Prohibition against planning: No person will plant a fruit tree in an orchard, except upon receipt of written permission from the proper authority, and in accordance with the conditions that it will determine … Supervision over the growing of vegetables: … A person will grow onions and onions for seeds only upon receipt of written permission from the proper authority … and in the Jordan district – No person will grow tomatoes and eggplants [without permission].

“A change in crop: A person will not change the type or composition of trees in the orchard except in accordance with a permit … Punishment: A one-year prison sentence or a 15,000 shekel [$4,400 at present exchange rate] fine or both … If a person is convicted of a crime according to this directive, the court is allowed to order, by request of the plaintiff, that the fruit trees that were planted or the vegetables that were grown without a permit, will be uprooted by the person convicted … and (in the event that) he doesn’t obey, the proper authority is allowed to uproot the fruit trees that were planted or the vegetables that were raised without a permit, and to charge the accused for all the expenses of the uprooting.”

Imagine the number of encounters and incidents of friction that such a crazy military directive and its ilk would have created between those requesting permits to grow tomatoes and eggplants and those in the Civil Administration denying their requests; between the Palestinian planters and the Jewish uprooters; between the criminal planters and the inspectors; and then between them and the learned judges and military prosecutors who would peruse the evidentiary materials and find that a crime of planting trees really was committed; and then with the officials of the Postal Bank, where the Palestinians would pay the fine directly. All that would have increased the exponential danger of contagion.

For the information of La Familia — as the vociferous far-right supporters of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team have been dubbed: Yitzhak Rabin, the man you love to hate, candidly summed up the brilliant trickiness of the Oslo Accords, when he said: No dates are sacred.

In other words, nobody is forcing us to withdraw from the entire West Bank on a specific date. And that’s how we have reached this point: 27 years on, Israel does what it wants in the West Bank.

No. the Oslo Accords aren’t dead. Their essence is alive and kicking, namely: Israel is maintaining its control over Palestinian land, water, quarries, and its economy and expanse, and is making the people the responsibility of a limited and handicapped autonomy in demarcated pockets of territory. The difficulties and the headache are transferred to Palestinian governments, with a minimum of material means of handling the problems. The profits and the benefits of rule, and first and foremost the exportable industry of oppression and surveillance, and luxurious suburbs with a good quality of life – belong to us Jews.

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