Palestinians have the right to build in the entire West Bank and they don't need Israel's approval to do so, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday, in response to a rare Israeli decision to approve construction permits in Palestinian towns in Area C.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh added the Palestinians would not negotiate their right to build in the West Bank.
The Israeli cabinet approved on Tuesday 715 housing units in Palestinian towns in Area C, which covers parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control, based on the Oslo Accords.
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Abu Rudeineh also said the Palestinian leadership will not legitimize the Israeli settlement enterprise. "Jewish settlements should be removed from Palestinian land," he stressed, referring to some 6,000 housing units in Israeli settlements also approved this week by the Israeli government.
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz the fact that Israel's security cabinet unanimously approved the decision attests to that the move is not a gesture of goodwill, but a step designed to remove Palestinians from areas in which Israel wants expand settlements.
Walid Assaf, chairman of the Commission against the Wall and Settlements, reiterated his remarks, saying it is evident that the decision is not a gesture of goodwill or move made out of concern for the Palestinians.
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"We know those [construction] permits are meant for Palestinians who reside in Area C, and therefore it's obvious the move is meant to prepare the ground for the transfer of Palestinians from other areas [in the West Bank], and especially Area E1, ahead of annexing Area C."
Area E1 covers the Mevasseret Adumim neighborhood that the Israel annexed to Jerusalem.
Assaf also said Israel is throwing some crumbs at the Palestinians in exchange for building additional illegal outposts and thousands of housing units in Jewish settlements. He noted that Israel would use its decision in its PR campaign after the harsh criticism it faced following the demolition of dozens of homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Hummus over a week ago.
Ghassan Douglas, the Palestinian Authority official in charge of monitoring settlement activity in the northern West Bank, said all signs point to the fact that Israel is preparing the ground for annexation.
"Israel is paving roads from the center of the country to the heart of the West Bank in order to enable settlers to freely move from the settlements near Kafr Qasem without even crossing paths with a single Palestinian," Douglas said.
Douglas also mentioned the ongoing construction of settlements in Area C to support his claim "Israel's decision is not the bearer of good news."
News of the plan, first reported Monday by Kan public broadcaster, was also bashed by settler leaders, who argued it may block settlement expansion.
But Israeli sources familiar with the details of the decision have told Haaretz that it is part of a policy shift intended to push out the Palestinian Authority's involvement in planning and construction in the territories.
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties confirmed that the move is part of a plan to extend Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. In a Facebook post published Tuesday, he wrote that the central goal of his political career is "to prevent the establishment of an Arab terror state in the heart of Israel, to protect all of our Land of Israel and develop settlement and sovereignty in all its spaces."
After criticizing 10 years of Israeli "abandonment and lawlessness" and Palestinian construction in Area C, 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."
According to Smotrich, Israel's strategic plan includes forbidding Palestinians who have moved to towns and villages designated Area C after the 1994 Oslo Accords to build in the area, and "original residents" may only build in places "that do not harm settlements and Israel's security and would not create [Palestinian] continuity or create a situation of a de facto Palestinian state." He added that these locations would serve the "strategic interests of the state of Israel" and not the "national interests of Arabs."
He said that Israel is creating a "toolbox" for "enforcement and forceful neutralization of the Palestinian takeover plan."
The cabinet's decision is concurrent with mounting legal and international criticism of Israel's policy, according to which Israel demolishes Palestinian buildings and neighborhoods in Area C while preventing any natural growth for its residents.