A Defense Ministry official told a Knesset committee Sunday that the government is ordering his office not to approve Palestinian building plans in the West Bank.
“In accordance with the directive of the political echelon, there is just about no planning being approved for the Palestinian sector,” Brig. Gen. Achvat Ben Hoor told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Ben Hoor heads the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in the West Bank.
During the session, settler-activist Orit Strock had claimed that all of the Civil Administration’s resources have been going to Palestinians. Ben Hoor assured Strock that the opposite was the case with regard to construction.
A defense ministry official later clarified to The Times of Israel that Ben Hoor had been referring strictly to master building plans. While no new Palestinian homes are currently being considered for approval, the Civil Administration is still advancing other projects to improve and expand existing Palestinian infrastructure, the official said.
An official from the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the directive that Ben Hoor was referring to.
The Civil Administration is responsible for authorizing building permits for Israelis and Palestinians in Area C.
Under the Oslo Accords, Area C of the West Bank — 60 percent of the territory, where most of the Jewish settlements are located and some 200,000 Palestinians live — is under full Israeli administrative and military control, while in Area B (22%), administrative control is the responsibility of the PA and the IDF is in charge of security. Area A — 18%, encompassing the major Palestinian cities — is under the full administrative and security control of the Palestinian Authority.
In the first half of 2016, the Civil Administration approved building permits for 37 for Palestinian structures in Area C. However, all but two of those permits were not even requested by Palestinians, but rather by the Civil Administration itself in order to build the village of “Jabal West” — the government’s relocation site for the residents of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which is slated for demolition. The remaining 426 requests for building permits submitted by Palestinians were all denied.
In 2015, just 7 of the 385 building permit requests were granted approval.
The Times of Israel reached out to the Civil Administration for its statistics on permits granted since the second half of 2016 and was referred to the Finance Ministry’s planning website. However, the most recent data on approved Palestinian projects was from more than two years ago, suggesting that no new plans have been authorized by the Civil Administration since.
This compared to Israeli construction projects in Area C which have been approved in the thousands on a near-annual basis.
Rights groups argue that the scarcity of building permits leaves Palestinians with no option but to build illegally and that Israeli authorities are aware of this.
In June 2017, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman put forth a plan to expand the crowded Palestinian city of Qalqilya by some 6,000 homes over the span of nearly two decades. However, just one month later, the cabinet voted to freeze the project due to pressure from settler leaders.
Alon Cohen-Lifshitz from the Bimkom planning rights group explained that the cabinet’s decision “has no impact on the situation on the ground, since… there will be no enforcement there anyway.”
In Sunday statement, the Bimkom NGO said Ben Hoor’s comments further proved that Israel prevents any Palestinian development in Area C.
“All attempts by Palestinian residents to meet the professional requirements of the Civil Administration are worthless, since all the decisions are made in the end by the political echelons,” the left-wing NGO said in a statement. The government has “extended the boundaries of discrimination to inhumane levels, severely harming hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank,” it said.