Israel Might Okay Twice as Many West Bank Housing Units for Jews as for Palestinians

Approval of construction for Palestinians is intended to signal to the Palestinian Authority and the international community that Israel is keen to help the PA, which is grappling with an economic crisis

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The Palestinian village of Khirbet Zakaria this month, where construction is on the agenda.
The Palestinian village of Khirbet Zakaria this month, where construction is on the agenda. Credit: Emil Salman

A committee of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank will meet next week to possibly approve plans for around 3,100 housing units in settlements and 1,300 in Palestinian towns and villages in Area C, the section of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and security control.

This is the largest number of housing units Israel has promoted for Palestinians in over a decade; the committee’s agenda was released Thursday.

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Approval of construction for Palestinians is intended to signal to the Palestinian Authority and the international community that Israel is keen to help the PA, which is grappling with an economic crisis that is damaging its popularity.

In August, an Israeli official said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was advancing plans for over 800 housing units in Palestinian communities in Area C and about 2,200 in Jewish communities. The committee, the Higher Planning Council, was due to discuss these plans two months ago, but a work action at the Civil Administration delayed these plans.

The significant increase in the planned number of housing units for Jews comes amid expectations that the Palestinians will condemn the move whatever the size.

As far as the Americans are concerned, there is no difference if we approve 2,400 or 2,800 housing units, so we decided to release what’s already in the barrel,” a source involved in the matter said.

The Israeli authorities will be happy if they approve 3,000 housing units in the settlements in every meeting of the Higher Planning Council, he added, but he did not rule out that pressure from the United States would hinder such plans.

The Israeli settlement of Rosh Tzurim near Khirbet Zakaria this month. Credit: Emil Salman

On the agenda released Thursday, settlements earmarked to receive new construction include Kfar Etzion, 292 housing units, Har Bracha, 286, Alon Shvut, 105, Karnei Shomron, 83, and Beit El, 58.

Construction plans will also be advanced for other communities in the West Bank – in Revava, Kedumim, Elon Moreh and Sansana. The 292 units in Kfar Etzion were not included in the plans Bennett sought to advance in August.

For the Palestinians, the council might approve 170 units in the town of Abdullah Yunis, even though in August the panel was scheduled to only advance building plans for Palestinians and not provide final approval.

The committee will also discuss the advancement of construction in Bir al-Basha, 270 units, al-Maskufa, 233, and Khirbet A’aba, 160 – similar to the agenda from August.

Unlike the original plans, the council will also discuss new housing for Palestinians in Dakeika, 200 units, and al-Ma’asra, 270 units – compared with only 150 on the list in August. Construction plans for Khirbet Zakaria, which were on the agenda for August, are not there for next week.

Jewish residents in the area have put pressure on Defense Minister Benny Gantz to block this part of the plan.

Gantz removed the 55 housing units planned for Khirbet Zakaria because of legal problems, a source involved in the matter said. He said the company Himnuta, a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund, filed a lawsuit on the matter.

If the problems are solved, Gantz might raise the building plans for discussion at the council’s next meeting, the sources said.

Commenting on Bennett’s plans in August, a senior PA official said Ramallah refused to equate construction for Palestinians and construction for Jews.

Speaking with Nazareth-based Radio Ashams, planning and construction expert Khalil al-Tafakji has said the promotion of these plans for Palestinians is spurious because most of the homes on tap have already been built.

Area C makes up about 60 percent of the West Bank and has been under full Israeli control – including planning control – since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and 1995. Between 2016 and 2018, the Civil Administration approved 21 Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C out of 1,485 requests submitted. During that period, 2,147 demolition orders were issued against Palestinians.

It was reported in April that out of 187 orders by the Civil Administration to remove new structures in 2019 and 2020, 159 were issued to Palestinians and only 28 to settlers.

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