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After green-lighting settlements, Israel advances 1,303 Palestinian units

Israel rarely okays Palestinian housing in West Bank, rejecting over 98% of requests; only 170 of the new units receive final approval, while rest have more hurdles to climb

A general view of a Palestinian Bedouin camp, after Israeli soldiers demolished their tents and structures in an area east of the village of Tubas, in the occupied West Bank, on November 3, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
A general view of a Palestinian Bedouin camp, after Israeli soldiers demolished their tents and structures in an area east of the village of Tubas, in the occupied West Bank, on November 3, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Israeli authorities advanced an estimated 1,303 Palestinian housing units in the West Bank on Tuesday, a week after drawing international condemnation for signing off on settlement construction in the area.

The Oslo Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, grant Israel civilian control — including over building and urban planning — in Area C, which makes up some 60 percent of the West Bank.

Israel almost never approves Palestinian construction in Area C, resulting in rampant illegal building. The homes are then routinely demolished by Israel in a seemingly endless cycle.

Between 2016 and 2018, just 21 of the 1,485 Palestinian applications for construction permits in Area C were approved by the Defense Ministry, or 0.81%.

While still out of the ordinary, Monday’s approvals will likely face long delays. According to the hearing’s agenda, only some 170 units were given final approvals. The homes in question lie in Khirbet Abdullah Younes, a small hamlet near Barta’a, a town that straddles the dividing line between Israel and the West Bank.

The remaining 1,233 units were advanced to an intermediate stage of planning, known as “deposit.” Moving ahead with the process in the politically charged West Bank could take months or even years.

The Palestinian village of Dirat in the South Hebron hills, December 22, 2014. (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

In 2019, the security cabinet approved — in principle — a record 700 building permits for Palestinians. However, an investigation by The Times of Israel last year found that almost none of those building permits were actually issued.

In addition to Barta’a units, the plans include advancing 430 units in Bir al-Basha and Abba al-Sharqiya, near Jenin; around 233 units for Tulkarem-area al-Maskoufa; and 270 for al-Mu’asara, near Bethlehem. Another 200-odd units were advanced in Dkeika, a small herding village in the south Hebron hills.

A plan to recognize the 50-home Palestinian hamlet of Beit Zakiriya in Gush Etzion, in the central West Bank, was struck from the agenda, following criticism by settler leaders.

The approvals marked only the fourth time urban plans that recognized Palestinian villages have been advanced since the Oslo Accords, urban planner Alon Cohen-Lifshitz told The Times of Israel.

“This is an important event, which cannot be ignored. Nonetheless, it does not substantially change a reality in which hundreds of villages are not recognized,” said Cohen-Lifshitz, who works at the left-wing nonprofit Bimkom, which advocates for equality in urban planning.

Moreover, some of the plans were submitted years ago and have yet to be updated. New construction in al-Maskoufa, for example, now lies outside the outdated border delineated by the proposed plan, Cohen-Lifshitz said.

Last week, Israel advanced some 3,000 settlement units. Around 1,800 were handed final approvals, while the remaining 1,200 reached the deposit stage.

The settlement housing, the first to be advanced since United States President Joe Biden took office, sparked widespread condemnation in the international community. Many view Israeli construction in the West Bank as a serious obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“We are deeply concerned about the Israeli government’s plan to advance thousands of settlement units on Wednesday, many of them deep in the West Bank,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters last Tuesday.

Settlement construction has also split the diverse, fragile coalition that currently governs Israel. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a former leader in the settler movement, maintains power with the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties and the Arab Ra’am party, which strongly oppose settlements.

“Defense Minister Ganz continues to rage irresponsibly, seeking only to complete a political checklist,” seethed Meretz parliamentarian Mossi Raz, in an interview with Army Radio.

Construction in the Israeli settlement of Rahalim, located near the Palestinian village of Yatma, south of Nablus in the northern West Bank, on October 13, 2021. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Much of the planned building will indeed occur in areas likely to remain in Israel in the event of a two-state solution. Hundreds of units are being planned for Givat Ze’ev, Beit El, and Alon Shvut — which all lie snugly within the so-called “settlement blocs.”

But some of the construction could take place in more tenuous territory. Some 377 units are planned in Kedumim, a settlement that lies deep in the northern West Bank, albeit west of Israel’s security fence.

Another 258 units will be advanced in Har Bracha, another settlement deep in the central West Bank, according to the Samaria Regional Council. Some of those units were already illegally built, and will now receive retroactive authorization.

“We also view plans for the retroactive legalization of illegal outposts as unacceptable,” Price said last week.

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