Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank has agreed to let Palestinians without internet access to attend a Monday hearing on controversial construction plans in person only hours before it started, meaning they were effectively unable to attend.
The plans concern E1, a 12-square-kilometer (4.6-square-mile) area currently annexed to Ma’aleh Adumim that stretches to the north and west of the settlement.
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Criticism of the E1 plans stems from the fact that construction in the area will cut off the north of the West Bank from the south, hindering the creation of a future Palestinian state. Plans for building in the area have existed since the days of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, however master plans and detailed zoning plans have been held up for political reasons since 2005.
There are over 100 Palestinian objectors to the two plans under discussion on Monday. Most of them live in Bedouin villages with poor electricity service and no internet infrastructure.
The objectors had planned to come in person to the hearing at the Civil Administration headquarters in Beit El, but were told on Sunday they can't, because it was meant to be held only via video link.
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The objectors’ counsel, attorneys Netta Amar-Shaf, Sliman Shahin and Alon Cohen from the Bimkom organization, complained to the Civil Administration that this does not allow for proper participation of the objectors.
According to a Planning Administration directive, under normal circumstances hearings on Zoom can be held only subject to the objectors’ consent, and the invitation must include an option for the objectors to protest a Zoom-only hearing. The invitation to Monday’s hearing did not mention any such option.
The decision was eventually reversed following a query from Haaretz, to allow attendance both in person and via video, but the Palestinians were notified of it only at around 10:30 P.M. on Sunday. In the hearing, their lawyers said they regard it as unlawful and left.
Another hearing is planned for later this month.
In addition to the Palestinian objectors, objections against the E1 plans were filed by the organizations Peace Now, Ir Amim, and the Association of Environmental Justice in Israel. These say that construction in the area will compromise the only land reserve in the Ramallah-Jerusalem-Bethlehem metropolitan area, home to over 1 million Palestinians.
These organizations further note that construction in E1 could harm the development of East Jerusalem since the area in question also serves as East Jerusalem’s land reserve, and that the plan has potential implications for a future peace agreement, as it would create a continuous stretch of settlements in a way that would disconnect the West Bank’s north from its south.