PM said to float plan for Palestinian building permits in West Bank’s Area C

Security cabinet yet to approve construction, which would be authorized along with settler permits, due to disagreements among ministers

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

The West Bank town of Qalqilya, as seen behind Israel's security barrier. (Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)
The West Bank town of Qalqilya, as seen behind Israel's security barrier. (Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)

The high-level security cabinet is debating a plan introduced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to grant building permits to Palestinians in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, alongside such approvals for neighboring settlers, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday.

After two lengthy meetings on Sunday and Monday, the ministerial body has yet to reach an agreement on the politically sensitive matter.

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 green-lighted for Israeli settlers.

The plan will allow Palestinians to construct 700 housing units, according to Channel 13 news.

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.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office did not return a request for comment.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plants an olive tree at the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood in the Elazar settlement in the West Bank, on January 28, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

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 bring the plan to its knees.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcomittee — the Defense Ministry bureaucratic body that authorizes West Bank construction — had been slated to convene this month to advance the latest batch of settlement building, 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.

The security cabinet discussions on Sunday and Monday came days before a US delegation led by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is slated to arrive in Israel, as well as other countries in the region, in order to promote the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Responding to the Kan report, Yesha settlement umbrella council chairman Hananel Dorani said that “instead of fighting against the Palestinian Authority’s takeover of Area C and destroying the illegal construction that is rampant there, the prime minister is raising the possibility of surrendering to the phenomenon and approving the illegal construction, and perhaps even approving further construction. We fully oppose this and call on the ministers of the security cabinet to oppose this proposal.”

As recently as last week, senior right-wing politicians spoke out against Palestinian expansion in Area C. United Right leader Ayelet Shaked toured the West Bank with the pro-settlement Regavim NGO and vowed to put an end to illegal Palestinian construction, which has increased over the years.

“In recent years, as part of an organized and funded effort by the Palestinian Authority, we have witnessed a massive takeover of Area C,” said Shaked.

The Peace Now settlement watchdog claims that such construction is a result of Israel’s refusal to grant Palestinians additional permits.

Hagit Ofran from the left-wing NGO told The Times of Israel last week that preventing natural Palestinian expansion beyond the Green Line would “only be an interest of the Israeli government if it intends to annex [the West Bank] and facilitate a system of apartheid.”

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