Cabinet reopens debate on expanding Palestinian city
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Cabinet reopens debate on expanding Palestinian city

Netanyahu announces decision amid backlash from right-wing ministers over scheme to add 14,000 housing units to Qalqilya

A view of Qalqilya from the Israeli side of the security barrier (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A view of Qalqilya from the Israeli side of the security barrier (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that the cabinet would hold another debate on whether to allow the Palestinian Authority to greatly expand the city of Qalqilya in the West Bank, after right-wing ministers denounced the scheme and claimed it had not been reviewed properly in a previous cabinet session.

The plan would see 14,000 new apartments built in the Israeli-controlled Area C surrounding the city, potentially more than doubling the city’s population, from 50,000 to 110,000.

Netanyahu said during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that he “doesn’t remember the cabinet decision on expanding Qalqilya,” Channel 2 reported, an apparent reference to claims by ministers that the plan had not previously been given the proper attention.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the settlement-supporting Jewish Home party, lauded the decision to reconsider the plan, tweeting that “in light of the Palestinian incitement [to commit terror attacks] we should not give them a prize of 14,000 homes along Route 6. I hope that this time everyone will join us in our position.”

Qalqilya is mostly surrounded by Israel’s security barrier and lies opposite the country’s central region only a few kilometers from the Tel Aviv suburb of Kfar Saba. The trans-Israel highway, Route 6, passes close to the city.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem, June 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem, June 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Yesha Council, an umbrella organization for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said in a statement that it backs the government in the decision to debate the plan before going through with it.

“It is inconceivable for the Palestinian Authority to build houses in Area C with government approval,” the council said. “We call on the the cabinet members to cancel the plan and to continue construction in Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley.”

Under the 1995 Oslo Accords, administration of the West Bank was divided into three categorizes: Area A under full Palestinian control, Area B under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, and Area C under full Israeli control.

Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council that oversees settlements in the northern West Bank, welcomed the decision, saying “We expect this government to continue to keep to its commitments and to strengthen the settlements and, as a result, all of Israel.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement last Wednesday that the plan was “presented by the defense minister last year and approved by the cabinet.” Since that time, it noted, “over 10,000 homes have been approved for planning and construction in the Jewish communities.”

However, the next day Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) slammed the proposal, saying, “A government of the nationalist camp cannot accept such a reality.”

“As far as I recall, the plan, to this extent, was never discussed by the cabinet,” Elkin said. “Advancing the plan without an exhaustive discussion by the cabinet, is in my opinion, an attempt by senior ranks of the army to shape a new reality behind politicians’ backs, and I cannot agree with it.”

Environmental Protection Minister Ze'ev Elkin, speaks during a press conference at the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem on March 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, speaks during a press conference at the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem on March 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The proposed construction will allow homes to be built up to 50 meters (54 yards) from the security barrier, despite the general rule banning construction within 200 meters (218 yards).

Bennett and fellow party member Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Thursday that although they approved of a “carrot and stick” approach to the Palestinians, “there is no doubt that the plan seems worse compared to the very limited scope of construction approved by the prime minister for Israeli communities,” Channel 2 news reported.

They called on the prime minister to freeze the plan until it had received cabinet approval.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) called for a parallel increase in Jewish construction while fellow Likud lawmaker, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, said the plan should be contingent on the behavior of the Palestinian leadership.

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