Has Israel Reneged on the Unity of West Bank and Gaza?

As part of the Oslo Accords, the Israelis officially accepted the concept that the West Bank and Gaza Strip represent one unit. Article IV of the agreement signed in the White House Lawn in 1993 declared "The two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved." The Quartet (made up of US, UN, EU and Russia) has continuously supported the concept of the unity of these geographically separated entities. But the latest military order number 1650 clearly reflects an Israeli decision to rescind that portion of the Oslo Accords. To consider Gaza Palestinians infiltrators if caught in the West Bank past their permit deadline reflects the Netanyah government's rejection of the unity of Palestinian territories. The Israeli order also reflects an Israeli attempt to reassert itself as the sole and overriding legislative power in the Palestinian territories.

When the Israeli army occupied Palestinian lands in 1967, the Israeli military commander issued an order giving himself the sole right to legislate for the people under his army's control. Military order #1 combined executive, legislative and judicial powers regarding Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in the hands of the Israeli military commander. Since then, thousands of laws have been issued by successive military commanders who single-handedly can amend existing laws or issue totally new laws without discussion, debate or even a public announcement. The orders are issued in Hebrew and the Palestinian public is by and large unaware of their existence. In the Oslo Accords, Israel committed to canceling the civil administration and to accepting the Palestinian Authorities rights to legislate.

This long introduction is meant to highlight the Kafkaesque legal structure that Palestinians under occupation are subject to. They have an elected Palestinian parliament whose laws are argued by civilians coming from the communities where the laws are to be implemented. Local press and electronic media cover the debates, often publish draft laws and announce the agreement on these laws once voted on. Once these laws are signed by a president, they are published in the Official Gazette and have the power of laws that local Palestinian judges can enforce using local lightly armed police, on condition that they only serve the court decisions within areas A (the highly populated cities) of the Palestinian territories.

Such was the case on October 13, 2009, when Major General Gadi Shamni, commander of the Israeli army in the West Bank, redefined who is an infiltrator (anyone without a special Israeli-issued valid permit) and what the punishment of infiltration is: up to seven years in jail, NIS 7,500 ($2,000) and deportation.

The Israeli military order number 1650 gave Palestinians six months to get their act in order. However, few Palestinians were even aware of this military order until an Israeli reporter quoted Israeli human rights organisations saying that the six months are to expire on April 13, putting tens of thousands of Palestinians in danger of imprisonment, fine and deportation.

While public deportation which are contrary to the Geneva Conventions had stopped in 1992, a much more sinister plan appears to have been implemented. The new undeclared policy is called by some "the transfer policy," whereby Palestinians are "encouraged" to leave and not return by use of various administrative orders, such as this latest order.

Ironically, this infiltration order does not apply to Jewish settlers who are indeed infiltrating into Palestinian territories, nor does it apply to Jewish settlers residing in the so called "outposts" that have not been even authorised officially by the occupying state of Israel. This is yet one more example of the fact that Israel is applying an apartheid regime in the occupied territories with Jewish settlers living under a different set of legal codes unlike what is applied to Palestinians.

In the past few months, we have seen clear evidence that Israel is undermining peace by building Jewish settlements in occupied territories, in defiance of the road map and commitments made to the US administration.

Interestingly, the man who had the power to make laws in the occupied territories and who signed military order 1650, Major General Shamni, has been the military attaché at the Israeli embassy since November 2009.