Planning Policy Changes Will Expand Area for Construction in Israel's Arab Communities

Among the Arab cities recommended for expansion are Sakhnin, Majdal Krum, Shfaram, Nazareth and the communities in the Beit Netofa Valley in the lower Galilee.

The Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.
Reuters

The National Planning and Building Council is expected to approve a long list of changes in the national master development plan (Tama 35) in the next few weeks. The changes will enable the expansion of areas intended for construction in many Arab communities in the Galilee, Wadi Ara and Triangle regions.

The change in policy is part of the implementation of the cabinet decision made half a year ago concerning improvements in planning and building in non-Jewish communities.

The process of changing and updating Master Plan 35 has been ongoing for the past two years, including where construction is allowed and where open spaces are to be preserved. Much of the debate is over how far is it possible to extend the urban frameworks in the plan, the urban areas where construction is permitted – and the bottleneck for the growth of many cities and towns.

In many areas without Arab communities it has been decided now to make limited changes and not to expand the urban areas, but at the same to allow expanding Arab communities in order to provide employment, space for public buildings and housing.

Among the Arab cities recommended for expansion are Sakhnin, Majdal Krum, Shfaram, Nazareth and the communities in the Beit Netofa Valley in the lower Galilee. Other cities to be expanded are Umm al-Fahm, Ara, Baka al-Garbiyeh, Tira and Kalansua.

Most of the changes were approved by a subcommittee of the planning authority at a meeting this week, but the full council must still approve the changes at a meeting scheduled for next week.

The expansion of the urban framework around Ma’alot-Tarshiha in the Upper Galilee will be heard at a separate meeting because this would come at the expense of forested areas. It was also decided not to allow Taibeh to expand across to the western side of the Trans-Israel Highway.

The new recommendations have received the support of the representatives of environmental organizations who sit on the council and generally object to such decisions to expand most urban areas – and reduce open and green spaces. In this case these representatives agreed in order to provide housing and employment solutions to the Arab communities.

A large part of the expansion plans are based on requests presented by the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, headed by former MK and planning expert Dr. Hanna Swaid, with the help of planning nonprofit Bimkom.