The security cabinet reportedly approved a series of Palestinian building plans in Area C in the West Bank, in a vote that was held in secret in order not to anger settlers and right-wing activists.
According to a report in the Haaretz daily Thursday, the vote took place two weeks ago and was part of a “carrot and stick” plan first announced by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in August. Liberman said that the purpose of the plan was to reward Palestinians who support coexistence while punishing those who support terrorism.
A senior Israeli official was quoted in the report as saying that the vote was held in secret because it was a politically sensitive issue. The official noted that the leadership of the settlement movement has a lot of influence in the right-wing Likud and Jewish Home parties and is strongly against any construction for Palestinians in Area C.
Area C is the portion of the West Bank that is fully administered by Israel. It comprises some 60% of the total territory in the West Bank and is where the Jewish settlements are located. Palestinians often complain that they are not granted permits to build there and allege that Israel is trying to push them out with an eye to future annexation.
Responding to news of the vote, the heads of the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) and Yoav Kish (Likud) called on the cabinet “to fix this embarrassing decision that allows for Palestinian construction during a time in which Jewish settlement is frozen and even destroyed,” according to the right-leaning site Israel National News. They added that the decision “is against the national interest, and we, as representatives of the public, will not accept it and will fight for its cancellation.”
The Haaretz report said that the meeting took place on October 5, just after Rosh Hashanah, and was attended by only approximately half of the cabinet’s members. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Liberman, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas), Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), Construction Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu), and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) all reportedly voted in favor of the measure. Voting against were Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home).
The plan was put together by the head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COAT), Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and was presented to the cabinet by Liberman. According to the report, it includes a plan for expanding Palestinian villages in the northern West Bank and the Palestinian city of Qalqilya, an economic corridor between Jericho and Jordan, the building of an industrial area near Nablus, the construction of a hospital in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, and the construction of preschools and soccer fields in a number of Palestinian villages.
The article also noted that a similar measure put forward last year by Netanyahu and then-defense minister Yaalon was thwarted due to fierce opposition from Jewish Home ministers, as well as several of the ministers from Likud. At the time, the Jewish Home ministers threatened to bolt the government and leave the coalition without a Knesset majority should the proposal be approved.