The Israeli government allocated 20 million shekels (about $6 million) on Thursday to survey and map out unaothorized Palestinian construction in the Wesy Bank's Area C, which is under full Israeli control. This is the first time that funds have been specifically allocated for such a survey as part of the state budget.
Even though the authority for enforcing the Israeli law on illegal construction in Area C is in the hands of the Civil Administration, the survey budget was allocated to the newly founded Settlement Affairs Ministry.
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In addition, 19.5 million shekels were allocated for grants to local government in West Bank settlements. These funds were approved as part of an 11-billion-shekel addition to the budget, while no final state budget for 2020 has been decided on.
The request for the funds came from the Prime Minister’s Office, but the explanation for why such a large sum was allocated is not clear. The responsibilities of the Settlement Affairs Ministry, which was established after the last Knesset election, include working with the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, the pre-army year of service and premilitary academies.
The security cabinet held a discussion in July 2019 about Area C, during which “the importance of preserving Area C from a national perspective” was decided upon. During Naftali Bennett’s term as defense mister, he appointed Kobi Eliraz, who was the adviser for settlement affairs, to the post of the head of “the campaign for Area C.” His successor as defense minister, Benny Gantz, did not renew the contract for this position.
In July and August, two meetings of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee were held on the matter of Area C, during which the head of the Civil Administration was asked to explain what was being done about the issue. A number of MKs who are not members of the committee participated in the session, including Bezalel Smotrich and Matan Kahana of Yamina, as well as organizations such as the Shiloh Forum and the Regavim nonprofit, which has been pushing the issue in recent years.
On Thursday, Jamie McGoldrick, the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, released data on the demolishment of Palestinian structures built without Israeli building permits.
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Between March and August 2020, 389 structures owned by Palestinians in the West Bank were demolished or confiscated – including in Areas A and B, and in East Jerusalem. On average, this is about 65 structures a month, which, according to the UN agency, is the highest average number of demolitions in the past four years. 79 percent of the structures demolished or confiscated were located in Area C. According to the UN's statement, 50 of the structures that were demolished or confiscated were given to Palestinians as humanitarian aid. Their demolitions “hit the most vulnerable of all, and undermined emergency operations,” the statement said.
As part of the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. Area C makes up 60 percent of the West Bank, and Israel has security and planning control over this area. As a result, any Palestinian or Israeli construction there requires Israeli planning approval. All the settlements are located in Area C, so both the settlers and Palestinians see the area as having great importance in shaping the map.
Figures from the Civil Administration provided as part of a Freedom of Information Law request by the Bimkom organization, show that from 2016 to 2018, Palestinians submitted 1,489 requests for building permits in Area C, but the Civil Administration approved only 21 of them – 1.4 percent. During this same period, 2,147 demolition orders were issued for Palestinian structures in Area C.