High Court to Hear Palestinian Demand for Village Planning Autonomy

Petitioners hope to end demolitions in areas under Israeli control by reinstating local zoning boards.

Tomer Appelbaum

The High Court of Justice on Sunday will hear the demand of a West Bank village to return planning autonomy to Palestinian communities in areas under full Israeli control.

The petition, which was first submitted in April 2011 by the village council of Dirat Rafa’aya with the support of Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, demands the reinstatement in Areas C of the West Bank of the local and district planning committees that were in operation before the Israeli occupation in 1967. It was submitted against the Defense Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces and the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

One of the petitioners, the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights, argues that under the current planning and zoning system in Areas C, which according to the Oslo Accords are under full Israeli control, the Palestinians are disenfranchised: The IDF, rather than the Palestinians themselves, control the mechanism by which new construction is approved. The petitioners say the army rarely approves new building, adding that the lack of master plans for the majority of the communities means that very few building projects have legal approval.

In advance of Sunday’s hearing, Amnesty International issued a four-page statement in support of the petitioners in which the organization said there was no similar case elsewhere around the world in which local residents were deprived of planning powers.

At the initial hearing on the case a year ago, the court gave the state 90 days to propose ways to bring local Palestinians into the planning process. The resultant proposals called for involving Palestinians in the planning process while leaving decision-making in the hands of Israeli authorities. The petitioners rejected the suggestion, claiming that it would not result in substantive cooperation or influence but merely serve as a “fig leaf.” Even in the current system, the petitioners said, “the Palestinians can propose plans of their own, initiated at their expense through private planners, and get rejections with reasoning that is difficult to comprehend.”

The state said the action sought by the petitioners has political implications and the issue must be worked out in as part of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority rather than the courts.

The petition, which is supported by the professional opinions of experts in international humanitarian law and human rights, contends that Palestinian villagers are forced to move because they are unable to get approval to build in their original villages. The petition also takes issue with a 1971 order that eliminated the local Palestinian planning committees but established similar committees for the few Jewish settlements that existed at the time. There are currently 20 local planning committees associated with West Bank Jewish settlements, and the petitioners claim that less than 1 percent of Area C is currently available for development by Palestinians.