The Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank approved only 21 of 1,485 applications from Palestinians for construction permits in Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control, between 2016 and 2018.
During the same period, 2,147 demolition orders were issued in Area C for violations by Palestinians of planning and construction regulations, Civil Administration data show. Ninety of the orders were carried out.
The figures were given in response to a freedom of information request by human rights organization Bimkom. The Civil Administration said that 56 building permits were granted to Palestinians between 2019 and 2018. However, 35 of those were granted as part of a state plan to relocate Jahalin Bedouins from the area of Ma'ale Adumim settlement, and were not implemented.
The Civil Administration said that most of the applications were for retroactive approval of existing buildings, frequently after Israeli authorities issued warnings that the buildings would be demolished, and therefore "clearly the possibility of retroactive approval is substantially lower."
Also requested was comparable data for the entire period since 2000. Since 2000, Palestinians have submitted 6,532 building permits in Area C, of which 245 – only 3.7 percent – were approved.
The small number of building permits issued in Area C in recent decades is a break from the trend during the earlier years of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, beginning in 1967. Figures from the Unit Coordinating Activity in the Territories, the predecessor of the Civil Administration, show that in 1972, for example, 97 percent of the applications for building permits were approved – 2,134 of 2,199 requests. The following year, the approval rate was 96 percent. By contrast, in 1988, the rate was 32 percent. These figures reflect requests for all areas in the West Bank, as the division into Areas A, B, and C was created as part of the later Oslo Accords.
Bimkom coordinator Alon Cohen-Lifshitz attributes this change to the growth of the settlements. "As the Israeli stake in the West Bank keeps increasing over the years, the number of permits is dramatically decreasing," he said. "You see it especially after the Oslo Accords, when you see a dramatic drop. In '72, no one thought there was a stake in stopping Palestinian construction. To the contrary – they saw it as the country's obligation."
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The small number of master plans that exist for Palestinian villages in Area C, which in provide the basis for building permits and need to be approved by the political leadership, are a major aspect of the planning problem in the territories. Of about 240 Palestinian villages in Area C, roughly 30 have approved master plans. There are also approved master plans for Palestinian towns and villages in areas of the West Bank under the civil control of the Palestinian Authority.
"The area in which Palestinians can build legally as part of approved plans whose purpose is to limit development, is 0.5 percent of Area C. The area of plans for settlements in about 26 percent," said Cohen-Lifshitz.
Lawyer Qamar Mishirqi-Assad of the human rights group Haqel, who specializes in land rights in the West Bank, said the problem does not start with building permits. "Palestinians aren't represented at the planning committees, plans created by Palestinians are not advanced forward, and the state doesn't initiate plans and doesn't approve permits. At the same time, the state intensifies enforcement," she said.
Until 1971, there were planning committees with Palestinian representation in the West Bank – but they were nixed by Israel and matters of planning were transferred to the Civil Administration. "The planning authorities are, systematically and in opposition to their duty, refusing to provide building permits or to legalize construction in the West Bank, and is in effect deliberately preventing any possibility of legal Palestinian construction in this area," she added.