Israel set to okay 3,000 new settlement homes, 1,300 Palestinian homes

Civil Administration’s planning committee will convene next week to approve West Bank construction for first time during Biden administration and under new Israeli government

Construction work is seen in the West Bank settlement of Yakir, on June 11, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Construction work is seen in the West Bank settlement of Yakir, on June 11, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Israel will next week advance the construction of more than 3,000 settlement homes and some 1,300 Palestinian homes in the West Bank’s Area C, according to a weekly schedule published by the Civil Administration’s planning committee.

It would be the first time settlement units are approved during the Biden administration and the current Israeli government. The plan was originally set to go up for approval two months ago but was stalled by the Civil Administration, the Kan public broadcaster said.

The settlement homes will be in Revava, Kedumim, Elon Moreh, Karnei Shomron and communities in Gush Etzion and the Hebron Hills.

Area C makes up some 60 percent of the West Bank and is fully under Israeli security and administrative control. Israel rarely approves Palestinian construction in Area C, with the overwhelming majority of requests being denied. This has resulted in rampant illegal building, which is in turn often demolished by Israel.

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%.

In 2019, the security cabinet approved — in principle — a record 700 building permits for Palestinians in what was widely seen as an attempt both to prevent the High Court of Justice from blocking further demolitions of Palestinian property on the grounds that it is impossible for Palestinians to build legally and to stave off international criticism against Israel for failing to allow Palestinian construction.

However, an investigation by The Times of Israel last year found that very few of those buildings permits had actually been issued.

Buildings under construction in Mishor Adumim, an Israeli industrial zone adjacent to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, on June 16, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Most of the international community considers settlement construction a violation of international law. The Trump administration in 2018 announced that it did not consider this to be the case, backing Israel, which rejects the position that the territories are occupied, saying they were captured from Jordan in a defensive war.

The expected approval of the construction comes a month after an Israeli government official told The Times of Israel that, despite the change of administration in Washington, Israel’s settlement building policies will remain largely unchanged.

The official said that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government will operate based on the understandings his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu reached with Trump, whose administration allowed Israel to continue building in settlements across the West Bank, so long as the construction did not expand beyond communities’ “existing footprints.”

This agreement allowed settlement building to skyrocket during the Trump era, with approved projects beyond the Green Line more than doubling compared to former United States president Barack Obama’s second term.

“The [Trump-era] understanding may well be adapted, but, as of now, it is still the only game in town,” the official said. “[US] President [Joe] Biden only spoke generally about his opposition to settlement building, and his team has not gotten into specifics with us.”

US President Joe Biden (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, on Friday, August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The official said that Bennett is aware of the issue’s sensitivity and acted to delay the convening of the Civil Administration’s planning committee, in order for it not to coincide with his visit to Washington in August.

At the same time, Bennett was clear in his meeting with Biden that his government would continue to allow for existing settlements to develop, the official said, adding that the prime minister had promised not to annex any West Bank territory.

The remarks appeared to diverge from comments made by a defense official in the Benny Gantz-led Defense Ministry, who told The Times of Israel ahead of the Bennett-Biden meeting that Israel would seek to prioritize construction in the so-called blocs located closer to the Green Line, which Israel wishes to maintain in any future agreement with the Palestinians.

While they have yet to be approved, a list of projects on the agenda for the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee includes ones in the settlements of Har Bracha and Beit El, both of which are located deep in the West Bank.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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