Israel’s decision to approve construction permits for Palestinians in Area C is part of a larger plan to annex the West Bank, sources familiar with the issue suggest.
On 30 July, the Israeli Security Cabinet approved building permits for Palestinians and Jewish settlers in Area C of the occupied West Bank. Area C is under full Israeli control and comprises 60 percent of the West Bank.
Construction plans for Palestinians versus Israelis
The plan pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu involves building 6,000 new homes for settlers and 715 homes for Palestinians. The Cabinet’s decision came just days before United States senior White House adviser Jared Kushner began his Middle East tour to promote the President Donald Trump administration’s peace plan. Political sources speculated to Haaretz that Netanyahu could be promoting the proposal under pressure from Washington.
Granting construction permits for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is rare. According to Civil Administration, data obtained by Israeli advocacy organization Peace Now, only 66 permits were approved for Palestinians from 2009 to 2016 while over 12,000 were approved for Israeli settlers. Construction permits for settlements in 2019 has already reached 3,691. The approval of an additional 6,000 homes will break the record for the total number of building approvals for settlers per year. The highest number of approved settlement construction permits was in 2017 at 6,742.
Yet the need for Palestinian housing far outweighs the Israeli demand. With an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C, around 1,000 Palestinian couples are currently in need of housing.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that since the Israeli authorities treat all areas as part of area C, then Ramallah will treat all territories as part of Area A. While Israel controls Area C, land designated as Area A in the West Bank is under Palestinian administrative control and security. Shtayyeh’s spokesperson said his comments mean that the Palestinian Authority will start issuing building permits for Area C.
Settlement leaders and right-wing government officials condemned the plan. Yesha settlement umbrella council chairman Hananel Dorani said the council opposed the plan and called on the Cabinet to reject it.
“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”, Dorani said.
But not all responded with hostility.
“I support the prime minister’s stance of giving Palestinians building permits in Judea and Samaria, but it must be done alongside strict and uncompromising enforcement against illegal construction,” Oded Revivi, head of the Efrat settlement council, said in a statement.
Israel’s real intention
Recent remarks made by officials indicate that the plan’s ultimate goal is to extend sovereignty over the West Bank and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Transportation Minister and Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel Smotrich confirmed this in a Facebook post following the decision:
“For the first time, the State of Israel will determine in a clear and unmistakable manner that original inhabitants of the area will be able to build and develop only in places that do not harm the settlement enterprise and security, and do not create territorial contiguity or a de facto Palestinian state. Places that do not serve the national interests of the Arabs, rather the national strategic interests of the State of Israel.
“For the first time ever, the State of Israel will implement its sovereignty over the entire territory and take responsibility for what happens inside it”.
Saying his primary political goal is to prevent the establishment of an Arab terror state in Israel, Smotrich wrote:
“Now, finally, thank God, comes the twist in the Israeli government’s approach to the spread of the terrorist cancer within us… Israel is forming a strategic plan to stop the creation of a Palestinian state inside the country”.
Walid Assaf, Palestinian minister and chairman of the Commission Against the Wall and Settlements, told Haaretz that the Palestinian Authority believes that the Israeli government is preparing for the annexation of Area C through this action.
Peace Now thinks that “[t]he goal of the construction plan is ultimately to serve the settlers, and not out of some sincere concern for the needs of the Palestinian population”.
“The Israeli government is making a significant step toward annexing and applying sovereignty over the territories”, the group said.
Ben Jamal, director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, believes increased settlement expansion in the West Bank coupled with a rise in home demolitions and the US embassy move to Jerusalem are clear examples of the growing erasure of the Palestinian identity.
“We are hearing a lot of Palestinian voices describing this as a new Nakba”, Jamal said. “What Netanyahu we think wants to do is to reduce the Palestinian issue to be a story of a troublesome minority, and not a story of a people who are having their collective rights denied”.