For several days now there has been a political storm over claims by the settler lobby that the security cabinet had approved a plan to build 14,000 housing units for Palestinians in the West Bank city of Qalqilyah. Aside from the fact that the construction plan was approved by the security cabinet nine months ago, an examination of the relevant documents shows that the plan calls for building only some 5,000 homes over the next 18 years.
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The exaggeration came from two right-wing sources – Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan and members of the Regavim movement, which objects to the granting of building permits to Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full security and civilian control. They first went to Channel 2 and then to other media outlets with the claim that the security cabinet had approved the construction of 14,000 homes in Qalqilyah while plans for construction in the settlements were being stymied.
Political sources say Dagan promoted this false claim because several construction requests submitted by the Samaria Regional Council were not even discussed by the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Council when it met two weeks ago, and he was particularly angered that the committee didn’t approve a plan to build a new industrial zone in his jurisdiction. Dagan then pressured Likud ministers Yariv Levin, Miri Regev and others, who rushed to condemn the approval of the 14,000 homes without even checking the data.
The plan for Qalqilyah first came before the Civil Administration’s planning committees in April 2013. The decision to deposit it for public comment – a significant step in the planning process – was made last September by the security cabinet. The plan covers an area of 4,428 dunams (1,107 acres), of which 62 percent, or 2,679 dunams, are zoned for residential construction while the rest is zoned for public areas, a zoo, a sports center and more. The plan does not include the construction of thousands of homes immediately, but will be implemented gradually, over 18 years. It is based on a calculation that by 2035 the population of Qalqilyah will be 80,000.
The documents on the Planning Administration website indeed refer to 14,000 housing units, but this number is defined as “the nominal potential capacity” of the master plan’s area if only high-rise housing was built, with no low-rise homes or public areas at all. These same documents state that the “realistic capacity” of the plan – that is, the number of homes the area will actually contain by 2035 – is only 6,187 units, of which a thousand are already built and will be legalized retroactively.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Monday evening with the head of the Beit El Local Council, Shai Alon, after the latter protested the small number of building permits being granted in Beit El. Alon demanded that 114 homes that could be built immediately be marketed and that other plans be advanced as well. Netanyahu promised to market the 114 units by the end of the year but refused to make any further commitments.