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Palestinians in the West Bank will get the opportunity to object to the construction of cellular phone antennae in the region, including those to be put up in settlements, the Civil Administration's Planning and Construction Council said.

The decision was made after opposition to a regional master plan dealing with the construction of cellular antennae in the West Bank's Area C, which is under Israeli civil and military control. The opposition came from Bimkom, an association focusing on human rights and planning issues.

According to the decision, notice of intent to put up antennae must be published in two Arabic and two Hebrew newspapers so the public can exercise its right to object. Safe distances must also be maintained from buildings or buildings envisioned by plans left over from the Mandate era.

The decision represents a significant change for the Palestinians, in whose villages Mandate-era plans are still in force. It is a departure from the previous system of keeping the plans at planning offices to be viewed upon request.

However, separate licensing procedures in settlements and outside them are still in place. The Palestinians are not represented on Civil Administration planning committees, while the settlers are.

The Planning and Construction Council said building permits in Palestinian villages and cities in Area C could still be issued by their planning committees or a special committee. But Bimkom's Nir Shalev says a 1971 Israeli military order transferred the powers of local committees in Palestinian villages in the West Bank to the Planning and Construction Council.

He said that after the signing of the 1995 Oslo II interim accord, planning powers in Area C were retained by the Civil Administration.

The Palestinians thus cannot issue building permits in their communities, while local planning committees in the settlements can approve cellular antennae for themselves. This situation breaches Jordanian planning laws in place in the West Bank, which state that construction permits are to be issued by committees of local Palestinian elected officials.