Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Wednesday scoffed at the Israeli security cabinet’s approval of 700 Palestinian building units in the West Bank’s Area C, alongside the authorization of 6,000 settlement homes.
“We do not need permission from the occupying power to build our homes on our lands,” Shtayyeh said, according to the official PA site Wafa.
“Building on land classified as ‘C’ is a right for Palestinians that is not up for exchange with settlements or to treat both as the same,” he said.
Shtayyeh also maintained the designation of the areas under the Oslo Accords as Area A (under PA control), B (Israeli-Palestinian control), and C (under full Israeli control) “no longer exists because Israel has violated and terminated the interim Oslo agreement.”
Palestinians are rarely granted building permits in Area C, and recent years have seen the total number of approvals remain in the single digits, compared to the thousands of green-lighted homes for Israeli settlers.
The security cabinet decision “is aimed at deceiving international public opinion, legitimizing the settlements and attempting to equate Palestinian construction on their lands with the colonial settlement construction that steals the land, the water and the air,” he continued.
“The settlements are illegitimate and illegal and will end as they ended in many countries and our right to our land will prevail despite all these decisions,” the PA prime minister said.
The security cabinet approval was also derided by PLO official Hanan Ashrawi as “farcical.”
She said the green-lighting was “a way to whitewash the construction of 6,000 new illegal settlement units on stolen Palestinian land.”
“In this regard, we reaffirm that all settlement construction in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal and constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute. Israeli intransigence and American collusion cannot change this legal fact or set it aside,” Ashrawi said, according to Wafa.
The unanimous Israeli approval came after two lengthy meetings of the high-level ministerial body on Sunday and Monday on the politically sensitive matter. One of the ministers present lauded his colleagues for the move, telling the Kan public broadcaster that the new cabinet “is more practical than the one before it.”
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is one of the security cabinet’s newest members and is considered be one of its most hawkish, voted in favor of the plan. He took to Facebook shortly after the vote, penning a lengthy post explaining his decision to back a proposal opposed almost across the board by settler leaders, including by the pro-settlement NGO Regavim, which he helped establish.
Smotrich said the cabinet was advancing the construction of thousands of settlement homes and further rooting Israeli presence beyond the Green Line, while at the same time granting Palestinians who had been living in Area C before the 1994 Oslo Accords the right to build and develop “only in places that do not compromise settlement and security and do not… produce a de facto Palestinian state.”
It wasn’t clear whether the permits are for new construction or for buildings currently slated for demolition.
The developments came days before a US delegation led by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner arrived in Israel and other countries in the region in order to promote US President Donald Trump’s administration’s peace plan.
It was not immediately clear why Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, brought the plan to a security cabinet discussion, given that only his approval is required (followed by that of a bureaucratic body within the Defense Ministry) for the granting of building permits in the West Bank.
As Israel girds for elections in September, several right-wing parties have vowed to prevent Palestinian expansion in areas of the West Bank that they hope Israel will annex.
The last time a plan for Palestinian building permits was brought for its approval, the security cabinet froze it indefinitely. That plan related to the expansion of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya, just bordering the Green Line. Then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman had introduced the proposal in 2017, hoping to allow for the crowded Palestinian city surrounded almost entirely by the security barrier to expand within the space still available.
But after settler leaders got wind of the program, they launched a campaign to pressure ministers to refrain from “rewarding terror” and managed to stop the plan.
The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee — the Defense Ministry bureaucratic body that authorizes West Bank construction — had been slated to convene this month to advance the latest batch of settlement homes, as the subcommittee does four times a year. However, that meeting has yet to take place.
According to the Oslo Accords, Israel has full military and administrative control over Area C, which comprises about 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory.
In a Wednesday interview with The Times of Israel, former Defense Ministry settlements aide Kobi Eliraz expressed support for the security cabinet’s decision, which was heavily criticized by settler leaders.
Eliraz admitted that 700 permits was marginal compared to what is actually required for the area’s Palestinians, noting that 50% of the permits would likely be for construction on existing homes.
“However, not approving the plan would have been like shooting ourselves in the foot,” he said, arguing that “once you start saying what is allowed [by approving permits], you can then start to enforce against what is prohibited.”
The former defense official noted that over the past several years when the state had set out to destroy illegal Palestinian construction, the High Court of Justice had prevented it from doing so, ruling that so long as Israel wasn’t granting Palestinians building permits in Area C, it could not seek to demolish the homes that were already standing. Despite roughly 400 requests each year for the past decade, never were more than 16 permits approved for Palestinians in Area C, compared to the thousands granted to Israeli settlers.