Jerusalem (AFP) - The Palestinian Authority has arrested several people who said they would favour Israeli annexations in parts of the West Bank, corroborating sources say, despite Ramallah's denial.
In an Israeli television report aired in early June, several Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are heard expressing the hope of becoming Israelis if annexation under a US-Israeli plan moves forward.
The comments by those interviewed directly contradict the Palestinian Authority's (PA's) total opposition to any West Bank annexations, a view shared by an overwhelming majority of the Palestinian public, according to surveys.
The Palestinians featured in the programme were captured by hidden camera and their identities concealed in the broadcast through blurred faces and distorted voices.
"I want an Israeli identity card," one Palestinian is heard saying. Another stated that he didn't see "Israelis as enemies -- their government is the enemy". And a third said he "chose Israel" and wasn't afraid to speak out publicly.
The prominent Israeli journalist who made the report, Tzvi Yehezkeli, said at least six people who spoke out in favour of annexation were subsequently arrested by the PA's security services.
"I was surprised to see that even though I've blurred the faces of all the people I filmed and distorted their voices, the Authority has reached and arrested (some) of them, it's just amazing," he told AFP.
Contacted by AFP, several PA security sources rejected the claims.
"We have not arrested anyone in connection with this case," Palestinian interior ministry spokesman Ghassan Nimr told AFP, while Palestinian police spokesman Louay Arzeikat also denied anyone was being held over the report.
- 'Fear' of arrest -
Israel had set July 1 as the date from which it could decide on the implementation of the Middle East plan proposed by US President Donald Trump and backed by right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It proposes Israel's annexation of its Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 by the Jewish state.
No announcement has so far been made on annexation -- a move that would violate international law -- but Netanyahu has said talks with Washington are ongoing.
Palestinian leaders have warned annexation would shatter any hopes for enduring peace and a two-state solution and risk sparking a new uprising.
Some 88 percent of Palestinians oppose the "Trump plan", according to a poll last month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, and 52 percent even said they would support a return to armed struggle.
There have been waves of demonstrations against annexation and the Trump plan across the West Bank in recent weeks.
Nonetheless, Yehezkeli, who has been a correspondent in the Palestinian territories for nearly 25 years, told AFP he realised there are also many Palestinians who do not share the outright opposition of their leaders.
Some interviewees had told him that "we don't care about annexation" and that "the Palestinian Authority has failed" and was "corrupt", he said, adding that he regretted not airing all those comments on television.
He insisted he had been told of their subsequent arrests by their families and stressed that he felt "responsible".
One Palestinian contacted by AFP said his relative, who had criticised the PA in the report, had been held for several weeks by Palestinian police and was due to face a court soon.
The individual said he was also in favour of annexation and, despite "fear" of being arrested, added he remained hopeful "that Israel will give us citizenship".
- 'Lost hope' -
Some Palestinian commentators say such statements reflect the deep dejection of people who have spent decades under occupation, denied the peace and prosperity they had long hoped for.
"Why did those people say that?" asked Shawan Jabarin of the Palestinian rights organisation Al-Haq. "They said that because they have lost hope in peace, in a two-state solution.
"We can't take this question out of context. The context is: there is injustice, occupation, oppression, and the Palestinian Authority doesn't act for the Palestinian national interests... They failed to bring peace.
"The question is: is Israel ready to accept them as full citizens, equal citizens?"
The answer appears to be no.
Netanyahu in late May said that Palestinians who find themselves on annexed land will not obtain Israeli citizenship.
Their status will remain unclear, since they will no longer be answerable to the PA either.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967, but the Palestinians still claim the sector as the capital of their future state. Palestinians living in east Jerusalem do not have Israeli citizenship but residence cards.
Only Israeli Arabs -- descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948 -- have full Israeli citizenship.
But some face discrimination in a country that passed a law in 2018 defining it as "the nation-state of the Jewish people".