Security cabinet approves plan granting Palestinians 700 building permits

One minister lauds colleagues for pragmatism after they push through PM’s proposal that will also allow for construction of 6,000 settler homes

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the press during his visit in Har Homa, on March 16, 2015. (Menahem Kahana/AFP))
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the press during his visit in Har Homa, on March 16, 2015. (Menahem Kahana/AFP))

The security cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan introduced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that will grant 700 building permits to Palestinians in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, alongside 6,000 such licenses for homes in neighboring settlements, a spokesman for one of the ministers present confirmed.

The unanimous approval came after two lengthy meetings of the high-level ministerial body on Sunday and Monday 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 of green-lighted homes for Israeli settlers.

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 Betzalel Smotrich arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

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 and even by the pro-settlement NGO Regavim, which he once 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, though, whether the permits are for new construction or for buildings currently slated for demolition.

Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s special adviser and son-in-law, leaves 10 Downing Street in London on June 4, 2019, on the second day of Trump’s three-day state visit to the UK. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP)

The developments came days before a US delegation led by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is slated to arrive 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.

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)

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.

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