Israel set to approve new Palestinian and Jewish building in West Bank

Defense Ministry to okay 1,000 Palestinians homes and some 2,000 settler houses; Jerusalem court freezes Palestinian home demolitions in Silwan

New housing construction in the Nokdim settlement in the West Bank, south of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, on October 13, 2020. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
New housing construction in the Nokdim settlement in the West Bank, south of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, on October 13, 2020. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

The government is slated to approve new building in Palestinian areas of the West Bank as well as in Jewish settlements.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has approved the construction of 1,000 Palestinian homes in the Israeli-controlled Area C, mostly in the Jenin and Bethlehem areas, a defense official confirmed to The Times of Israel Wednesday

Meanwhile, the ministry’s Civil Administration will also okay some 2,000 new homes in West Bank settlements, for the first time since both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden took office.

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 percent.

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.

A view of the Bethlehem skyline (CC BY SA Daniel Case/Wikimedia Commons)

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

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.

Meanwhile, a lawyer said Wednesday that a Jerusalem court had ruled that dozens of home demolitions in a flashpoint Palestinian neighborhood should be frozen for six months.

Israel had ordered the demolition of around 100 homes in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood on the edge of the Old City in East Jerusalem, claiming they were built illegally on public land.

Monday’s court order froze most of those demolition orders until February 2022, while also allowing 16 homes to be razed immediately.

“I have reached the conclusion that it is appropriate to grant a specific extension,” wrote Judge Sigal Albo of the Jerusalem Court for Local Affairs in the decision.

Lawyer Ziad Kawar, representing residents in the Al-Bustan area of Silwan, told AFP the ruling was “progress” but “not a victory.” He said he would appeal to foreign diplomats to put pressure on Israel over home demolitions.

View of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, April 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Kawar said his clients were applying for retroactive permission for their homes, which he said they built on their own private property without permission.

“It is not possible to get permits there,” Kawar said.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967, and later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally.

In the 1980s, settlers began moving into Silwan, which sits on land where — according to Jewish tradition — King David established his capital some 3,000 years ago, making the area hallowed ground in Jewish history.

Israelis have said they hope to build a park devoted to the biblical King David in Al-Bustan.

Several hundred settlers currently live in Silwan under heavy security, among about 50,000 Palestinians.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed