The security cabinet decided late Wednesday night to temporarily freeze a proposal allowing the building of up to 14,000 housing units in the West Bank Palestinian city of Qalqilya.
The ministerial body will convene again in ten days to make a final decision on the plan and to discuss a comprehensive policy regarding Palestinian construction in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.
In the meantime, the National Security Council along with the Defense Ministry will provide ministers with the full details of the Qalqilya proposal, the statement added.
Qalqilya, which is surrounded on three sides by Israel’s security barrier, is the West Bank’s most densely populated Palestinian city. Under the proposal, the Palestinian Authority would be allowed to double the size of the city by expanding into land that is currently under Israeli control, in a part of the West Bank known as Area C.
The proposal was approved last year as part of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s policy of “carrots and sticks,” in which Palestinians would be rewarded for maintaining calm and swiftly punished for attacks and other disturbances to day-to-day life in the West Bank and Gaza.
But amid recent pushback against the Qalqilya proposal by some members of the right-wing coalition government, the issue was brought back on the docket, with the possibility of having it overturned.
In response to claims that ministers were blindsided by the military establishment over the issue, the cabinet instructed the attorney general Wednesday to formulate a position designating the authority of the government and the army in the West Bank with regards to matters of construction.
Samaria Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan praised the cabinet’s decision to freeze the plan as a “step in the right direction.” In a Wednesday statement, the settler leader called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel the plan entirely and “devote a little more time to advancing construction plans for the citizens of the State of Israel in Judea, Samaria and throughout the country.”
Touring West Bank settlements Wednesday ahead of the cabinet meeting, Liberman disputed the claim that 14,000 Palestinian homes would be built under the Qalqilya plan, saying the number would in fact be closer to 6,000, which he said would be built over the next 18 years.
While the proposal does indeed speak of 14,000 housing units, the number is specified as a projected maximum that can be built within the legal bounds of strict Israeli planning rules. Indeed, the plan also specifies a more “realistic” figure of 6,187 units, which would only be completed by 2035.
Moreover, the plan indicates that roughly 1,000 of the units have already been constructed and will simply be receiving retroactive approval.
All of the land to be used for construction is privately owned by Palestinians and is surrounded almost entirely by the security barrier. “No Israeli enters these areas anyway,” Liberman pointed out.
Some settler leaders have derided the plan as a “reward for terror” and have noted that Qalqiliya sits next to a major Israeli highway at the country’s narrowest point, just 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the Mediterranean Sea, and could prove a launching ground toward Israel’s heartland.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.