Israel to advance plans for 1,000 Palestinian homes in West Bank’s Area C – official
Last time such approvals were granted, the majority of the 1,300 were for houses already built; this move comes as Defense Ministry greenlights 4,400 new Jewish settlement homes
Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief
The Defense Ministry will advance plans for some 1,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Thursday, as the same office was convening to greenlight projects for some 4,400 Jewish settlement homes.
The projects for both the Palestinians and the Israeli settlers will be located in Area C, where Israel maintains civilian control. Roughly 330,000 Palestinians and 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the 60 percent of the West Bank that makes up Area C, according to figures from the UN and Israeli authorities respectively.
The projects for Palestinians have not yet been publicized, but appear to be part of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s policy of advancing housing plans for both populations in the West Bank after more than a decade during which only dozens of permits for Palestinians were approved in comparison to the nearly 25,000 homes that were built for settlers.
The last time that the Defense Ministry’s High Planning Subcommittee convened to advance plans for roughly 3,000 settlement homes in October, the panel subsequently greenlit six projects amounting to 1,300 homes for Palestinians in Area C — though the majority of the latter authorizations were for buildings that already existed.
Unlike the previous round of approvals, the Defense Ministry hasn’t officially publicized this time that they will include projects for Palestinians. The tying of the projects for the two West Bank populations together sparked an outcry from settler leaders last year, and right-wing members of the fragile coalition appear intent on avoiding such criticism.
Nonetheless, the government has notified the Biden administration of its intention to once again greenlight plans for Palestinians, another official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.
The Defense Ministry announced last week that it would advance plans for 3,988 Jewish settlement homes, though the agenda publicized ahead of the High Planning Subcommittee meeting showed that the number was actually 4,427.
The panel was in the midst of advancing the 25 projects on Thursday in a move that is sure to draw international condemnation. The High Planning Subcommittee over the last five years has typically met on a quarterly basis, though there have been larger gaps between meetings during sensitive diplomatic periods. Its last meeting was in October.
While some of the projects already advanced in the first part of the meeting on Thursday are for settlements located close to the Green Line, other plans slated to be greenlit are for settlements deep in the West Bank. These included a project for 56 homes in Negohot, which was advanced through the earlier planning stage known as deposit, and a project for 534 homes in Shevut Rachel, which was advanced through the final planning stage.
In addition to adding thousands of new homes, the plans retroactively legalized the Mitzpeh Dani and Oz V’gaon outposts. The former is a wildcat neighborhood of the Ma’aleh Michmash settlement in the heart of the West Bank and the latter is a nature reserve and education center that was built following the kidnap and murder of Israeli teens Gil-ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel in a terror attack in the summer of 2014.
In a celebratory tweet responding to news of Mitzpeh Dani’s approval, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked called it a “holiday for the settlement movement.”
The approvals come roughly a month before Joe Biden is expected to make his first visit to Israel and the West Bank as US president. His administration urged Jerusalem against moving forward with the move and issued a statement condemning it last week.
The Biden administration on Friday blasted Israel’s plans to advance settlement homes in the West Bank, saying the measure “deeply damages the prospects for a two-state solution.”
“The Biden Administration has been clear on this from the outset. We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements which exacerbates tensions and undermines trust between the parties,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter during a phone briefing with reporters. “Israel’s program of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospects for a two-state solution.”
The condemnation appeared tamer than the one Washington issued last October when the State Department called the approvals “completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and restore calm.”
The administration has been sympathetic to the fragility of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition, which includes right-wing parties that count settlers as their supporters.