The Israeli Defense Ministry issued just 33 building permits for Palestinians living in West Bank areas directly administered by Israel between 2017 and 2021, deputy Defense Minister Alon Schuster told the Knesset on Wednesday night.
The Israeli military demolished 1,169 Palestinian structures without permits over the same five-year period, Schuster said. Some 487 Israeli structures in Area C were razed by the state during that time. The figures were provided in response to a parliamentary question by Meretz MK Mossi Raz.
Under the Oslo Accords, Israel exercises direct control in the West Bank’s Area C, which comprises around 60 percent of the contested territory. Around 450,000 Israeli citizens live in Area C alongside 300,000 Palestinians.
But Palestinians in Area C say they face high barriers to building legally. Many of their towns lack master plans, which are essential for receiving permits. Others lie in areas the Israeli army has declared to be firing zones.
The Israeli military regularly demolishes the illegally built homes and other structures in Area C. Some smaller communities, such as the Bedouin hamlets that dot the Jordan Valley, have been torn down several times.
Between 2016 and 2020, 99.1 percent of Palestinian requests for building permits were rejected, according to data provided by the Israeli army’s Civil Administration. Most requests were only made after construction had already begun, the Israeli military body said.
By contrast, construction began on 7,000 housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank between 2017 and 2020, according to Peace Now. Data for 2021 was not immediately available.
At the dawn of Israeli rule over the West Bank, the Israeli military approved the vast majority of Palestinian permit applications. In 1972, around 97 percent of requests for residential construction were approved — 2,123 of 2,199.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War.
But with every acre of open West Bank land fiercely contested by both Israeli settlers and Palestinians, the number of approvals for Palestinians has dwindled substantially over the years.
Israeli officials note that some new plans for Palestinian communities have been approved over the past few years. American and European diplomats have raised the issue with Jerusalem in the past.
“In these years — from 2017 to 2021 — some 15 outline plans were advanced in Palestinian communities,” said Schuster from the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.
Just five of those plans were handed final approval, however. The five plans include a hotel, a gift shop, and two residential buildings in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem and the retroactive legalization of 170 structures in Abdullah Younes in the northern West Bank.
“This statement aims to create a false impression of ‘development for the Palestinians.’ If you look at the five plans, you can see that we’re talking about negligible matters here,” said Alon Cohen-Lifschitz, an urban planner at Bimkom who specializes in the West Bank.
“It doesn’t change Israel is seeking to prevent Palestinian development in Area C, where Palestinians can legally build in just 0.5 percent [of the territory],” charged Cohen-Lifschitz.