Opinion |

Israel's Dirty Trick of ‘Construction for Palestinians’

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
A building demolished by the Israeli authorities in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, in May.
A building demolished by the Israeli authorities in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, in May. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

How did it happen that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s left-wing government approved construction plans for Arabs, yet opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu remained silent and MK Bezalel Smotrich didn’t seize the opportunity to remind us that United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas controls the governing coalition? Why did Kahanist MK Itamar Ben-Gvir not move his migrating kiosk of hate to the offices of Israel’s supreme planning council for the West Bank, to protest “giving a prize to terrorism”?

No, they didn’t fall asleep while on guard duty over the Land of Israel. Right-wing activists, including Bennett, know that construction plans for Palestinians not only don’t interfere with the annexation of the West Bank, but are an inseparable part of it. Just like home demolitions are.

These minuscule construction plans for the Palestinians aren’t meant only to make it easier for the Americans to swallow a new plan to expand the settlements, or to silence the left’s representatives in the government. The policy of allowing the building of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and the policy of demolishing them both serve the same goal – putting a spoke in the possibility of Palestinian sovereignty west of the Jordan River.

You don’t believe me? Here is the explanation that then-minister Smotrich vouchsafed for his ostensibly surprising support of a July 2019 cabinet decision that approved construction of 700 homes for West Bank Palestinians (as well as 6,000 in Jewish settlements): “For the first time, Israel will use its sovereignty and responsibility for the entire territory and take responsibility for what happens there.”

This wasn’t a slip of the tongue. Smotrich knows that Israel isn’t the sovereign power in the West Bank. He and other Jewish racists sat in the government that sold annexation of the West Bank for peace agreements with Arab countries that Israel had never been at war with.

But instead of de jure annexation, Israel is engaged in de facto annexation on steroids. Alongside legalizing illegal outposts and expanding authorized settlements all over the place, in a way that obliterates any vestige of the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank, Israel is drowning the Palestinians in a honey trap of construction plans.

If the Palestinian Authority takes the bait, this will be interpreted as tacit consent to Israel’s control over the fate of the 150,000 to 200,000 Palestinians living in Area C, the part of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords left under full Israeli control, and is free to build or demolish there as it pleases. But if the PA, as it usually does, denounces this “gesture” as a step that undermines peace, Israel will come out looking righteous.

It goes without saying that Palestinian residents of Area C aren’t represented on the planning committees that decide where they are allowed to live. Israel is the de facto sovereign of a little over 60 percent of the West Bank.

In 2016, for instance, the government approved a grand plan to develop the city of Qalqilyah that involved building factories, commercial centers, sports fields, a zoo, public buildings and a luxury neighborhood. But the settler right raised an outcry against allowing Palestinians to live near Route 6 and the Sharon region, and the plan died while still in the womb.

Indeed, according to official data collated by Peace Now, all the plans announced between 2009 and 2020 have resulted in a grand total of just 66 construction permits.

At a 2018 session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s subcommittee on West Bank affairs, Kobi Eliraz, a resident of the settlement of Eli who was then serving as the defense minister’s adviser on settlement affairs, admitted that “the policy is that we don’t promote or approve construction by Palestinians in Area C.”

But because, to his great sorrow, the Supreme Court “won’t back” this policy, there’s no choice but to approve a little construction for Palestinians here and there, “especially in places that in any case are already being cultivated or that abut Areas A and B.”

How lucky they are to have the Oslo Accords, an agreement that never ceases coddling its enemies.

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