Ahead of CIA Meeting, Palestinians Call on U.S. to Stop Settlement Expansion Plan

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Construction in an Israeli settlement, in 2018.
Construction in an Israeli settlement beyond the Green Line, 2018. The Palestinians oppose any equation between settlement construction and construction in the Palestinian villages, an official said.Credit: Emil Salman

The Palestinian Authority called on the United States on Thursday to stop Israeli plans for over 2,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank, even as the director of the CIA was heading to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In a press release, the Palestinians noted that Israel's Wednesday decision to promote new construction in the West Bank ran counter to U.S. President Joe Biden's stance against settlement construction and unilateral steps.

The statement did not mention the Israeli green light for over 800 new homes in Palestinian villages in Israeli-controlled Area C, also issued on Wednesday. A top official in Abbas' office said the Palestinians oppose any equation between settlement construction and construction in the Palestinian villages. Additionally, officials in the Palestinian zoning and planning administration noted that most of the new village homes lie on the seam between Area C and Areas A and B, and therefore don't point to any policy change on Israel's part.

At the same time, top Palestinian officials were getting ready to meet CIA director William J. Burns, in what was seen by Ramallah as a crucial step in the rehabilitation of ties with Washington, severely damaged during the Trump administration. According to the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, Burns will also meet with top intelligence officers in order to discuss the security coordination between the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. and Israel.

On Wednesday, Burns met with Prime Minister Bennett in Jerusalem. The premier and the director have "discussed the situation in the Middle East, with emphasis on Iran, and possibilities for expanding and deepening regional cooperation," a statement from the Prime Minister's office said.

'Calculated risk'

On Wednesday, an Israeli official said Bennett's announcement of the go-ahead for Palestinian construction was meant to legitimize settlement expansion, and was seen as a "calculated risk" vis-à-vis the Biden administration by government officials. It was also meant to stave off opposition by the left-wing partners of Bennett government coalition.

A political source said that the U.S. administration "will express opposition to this move, but everyone wants this impossible coalition in Israel to hold out... It was clear to Bennett that he would not have been able to advance this move after his meeting with Biden at the end of the month, so as not to damage their relations, and that's why he had to announce it as early as he did."

The approval of new Palestinian housing in Area C is seen as part of a larger move by the Israeli government, trying to strengthen the standing of the Palestinian Authority. It joins a recent decision by Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to increase the number of permits granted to Palestinian laborers to work in Israel and in West Bank settlements.

Area C is the portion of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control rather than at least the partial control of the Palestinian Authority.

Area C represents 60 percent of the territory of the West Bank, but does not include the major Palestinian cities there. According to data reported by Haaretz that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, between 2016 and 2018 the Israeli Civil Administration approved only 21 building permit requests by Palestinians for construction in Area C. During that same period, 2,147 demolition orders were issued against Palestinian property.

This is the first large-scale plan promoted by Israel for Palestinian construction in Area C.

Settlement homes

The planning council is also expected to consider next week plans for 1,351 housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank before filing them for public comment, and approve 908 more units, alongside the plans for the Palestinian villages.

Next week’s meeting will be the planning council’s first in seven months, and the first since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett assumed office. The Yesha Council of settlements has been lobbying intensively over the past few months to convene the council.

Last month, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr visited Israel and the West Bank to discuss the latter’s financial crisis. Officials who met with him said he voiced the Biden administration’s concern about the situation and urged Israel to take steps to increase the Palestinian Authority’s cash flow.

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