The Settlement Affairs Ministry published on Thursday criteria for regional councils in the West Bank to apply for financial support to buy drones and establish and operate patrol units that will monitor unauthorized Palestinian construction in the West Bank's Area C, which is under full Israeli control.
According to the guidelines, the councils will receive funds to pay the salaries of field inspectors, buy vehicles, drones and electronic monitoring equipment, as well as for fencing and aerial photography.
In September, Haaretz reported that the Settlement Affairs Ministry would be allocating 20 million shekels ($6.2 million) for monitoring unauthorized construction by Palestinians, being the first time a designated amount was allocated for such monitoring as part of the state budget.
According to the criteria published on Thursday, 11.7 million shekels will go to establishing and operating the patrol units, and 7.7 million shekels will be allocated for erecting fences and closing off various areas, constructing roads and purchasing electronic monitoring devices.
Regional councils will also be able to ask for funding for external advisory services on patrols and collection of data. Councils with more than 20 settlements could receive up to 2.6 million shekels in funding. The ministry also said it would hold annual conferences for members of the patrol units.
However, the regional councils will not be able to take independent action against unauthorized construction, but will report to an “Area C situation room”, established in recent weeks by the Civil Administration, which controls all activity in this area.
The regional councils and the patrol units lack the authority to enforce any measures against unauthorized construction in the West Bank, but the new units are meant to exert pressure the administration on this matter.
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The Settlement Affairs Ministry's decision to publish the criteria for funding was not coordinated with the Civil Administration.
The patrol units will operate as part of attempts by the right in recent years to block construction and agricultural activity by Palestinians living in Area C.
There are already some patrols working for regional councils in the West Bank. A team composed of a coordinator and two rangers were set up last year in the Binyamin Regional Council and the Gush Etzion bloc also has a similar team.
“We are enlisting in full strength against the hostile takeover of land in Area C”, said the Minister for Settlement Affairs Tzachi Hanegbi on Thursday. He added that “these teams will foil the Palestinian Authority’s stated intention of creating facts on the ground, in contravention of the law and of signed agreements they have with Israel.”
In July 2019, the cabinet decided to act against unauthorized construction in Area C. Then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett appointed his adviser for settlement affairs Kobi Eliraz to oversee the efforts to implement this decision. Bennett’s successor, Benny Gantz, did not extend Eliraz’s contract.
In July and August, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held two meetings to discuss Area C, in which the head of the Civil Administration was asked to explain what was being done about Palestinian construction there.
Attending the meeting were lawmakers who were not on the committee, including Bezalel Smotrich and Matan Kahana from Yamina, as well as organizations such as the Shiloh Policy Forum and the Regavim non-profit group, which have been pushing for such action in recent years.
The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 and in 1995, divided the West Bank into three parts: Area A, which makes up 18 percent of it and includes all large Palestinian cities, is under full control of the Palestinian Authority; Area B, which makes up 22 percent, is under civilian control of the PA and Israeli security control; and Area C, which makes up 60 percent, is controlled by Israel and is home to all Israeli settlements. Both the Palestinians and the settlers view Area C as having great importance in shaping the West Bank.
Data provided by the Civil Administration as part of a Freedom of Information Law request by the Bimkom organization, shows that Palestinians submitted 1,489 requests for building permits in Area C from 2016 to 2018, but only 21 of them – 1.4 percent – were approved. During this same period, 2,147 demolition orders were issued for Palestinian structures in Area C.
According to data provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel demolished 660 Palestinian structures in Area C in 2020, out of which 110 were used as residential homes.