The High Court of Justice is scheduled to hold a hearing Monday on the issue of planning rights in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control and constitutes 60 percent of the territory. The petition, filed in 2011 by, among others, the village of Dirat-Rafa’aya in the southern Hebron Hills, Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, asks the court to restore the planning committees that dealt with Palestinian development that were annulled in 1971 by the Israel Defense Forces and their authority transferred to what eventually became the Civil Administration, which is appointed by the military and consists solely of Jews.
The planning body’s affiliation and composition reflect the policy of discrimination and lack of representation suffered by the Palestinians in the regional planning system, which leads to their eviction so that settlements can be expanded. From the data supplied by Bimkom − Planners for Planning Rights, it emerges that the areas currently designated for Palestinian development total only 1 percent of Area C, while the settlement areas with master plans constitute 26 percent of Area C (as reported by Amira Hass on Sunday). The petitioners note that the land area the state allocates to Palestinian towns is significantly less than that allocated to settlements and limits Palestinian options for future development and expansion.
The result is that nearly all Palestinian construction in the area is considered “illegal” and subject to demolition. Between 2009 and 2013, 2,224 Palestinian structures were demolished for this reason.
Given these statistics it is hard to understand the state’s response to the petition, in which it argues that claims of discrimination are groundless. Not only is the planning inequitable in scope, it is carried out by separate planning bureaucracies; while the settlers enjoy a planning system sympathetic to them, the Palestinians face a military planning bureaucracy that is hostile. Even though in recent years, in response to the petition and under pressure from Europe, the Civil Administration has prepared 11 master plans for Palestinians and slowly approved a few local plans that were prepared, the discrimination is still built in to the system and results in planning apartheid.
The state’s argument that these issues have diplomatic ramifications and should be dealt with during the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, and not by the courts, is false and disingenuous. Not only is Israel doing its best to avoid negotiating with the Palestinians. Moreover, according to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, it has actually stopped advancing what building plans there are, as punishment for the Palestinian Authority applying to join UN conventions.
But in any case, the rights of those living in occupied territory and who are considered “protected” by international law are not subject to negotiation, and cannot be undermined on any political or diplomatic pretext.
The military that controls an occupied area is obligated to preserve the law that existed in it before it was occupied and attend to the welfare of the local population. Israel’s discriminatory planning policy in the West Bank violates this obligation, and it behooves the court to halt it.
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