Then-Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel speaks to the news media during a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a new Jewish neighborhood on Aug. 11, 2013, in East Jerusalem. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM — A top Israeli minister said he wants the government to take complete control of more than half of the West Bank and remove the Palestinian residents of the territory.
While traveling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to Russia on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told the Times of Israel that the world should forget about a Palestinian state.
“We have to aspire to the annexation of Area C; these are areas where there are no Arabs at all,” Ariel said. “We would remove a few thousand, who do not constitute a significant numerical factor.”
According to the Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas. Area C comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli military control, both for security and civil affairs.
Estimates of the Palestinian population in Area C are a subject of mystery and debate.
The United Nations agency that provides aid to Palestinians reported that there were 297,500 Palestinians in Area C in 2014.
An Israeli human rights group, Bimkom, estimates that 150,000 to 180,000 Palestinians live there.
The Israeli military division that controls Area C gives an estimate of 50,000 Palestinians.
Area C — which covers about 1,300 square miles spread throughout the West Bank — is where the Jewish settlements are located. More than 350,000 Israelis live on 125 settlements and about 100 outposts. The international community calls the settlements illegal; the United States views them as illegitimate and obstacles to peace; the Israeli government disputes this characterization.
Ariel is a longtime advocate for the settler movement and lives in a settlement, Kfar Adumim, east of Jerusalem.
The Times of Israel did not reveal Ariel’s thinking on the method of transfer of Palestinians from Area C. “Ariel did not specify how those Palestinians would be removed, or where they would be relocated,” the media outlet reported.
This is not the first time that Ariel has advocated annexing Area C. He has done so repeatedly. In January, Ariel said it was time to take full possession of the land.
“If someone asks about Areas A and B, then their time will come. When, we will see,” Ariel said. “For now, let’s agree on Area C. There is more than 60 percent of the territory, with 50,000 Arabs. They do not pose a problem to the state of Israel.”
Ariel is a leader of the hard-right faction in the Jewish Home party, which is a member of the government. Other Jewish Home leaders, such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett, also have urged annexing Area C but have not advocated the mass transfer of Palestinians out of the area.
Depending on the annexation plan, the Palestinians would be offered Israeli citizenship or residency or be made the responsibility of Jordan, Bennett has said.