Israel approves plans for Palestinian homes in Area C – along with 2,000 settlement units

The Jewish settlement of Efrat within the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, between Al-Khalil-Hebron and Bethlehem (Mosab Shawer - APA Images)

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss   /  August 12, 2021

“It seems that the approval of a handful of plans for the Palestinians is only intended to try to reduce criticism of the government and to please the US administration ahead of Prime Minister Bennett’s expected visit to Washington in the coming weeks,” settlement watchdog Peace Now said in a statement. 

The Israeli government has approved initial plans for thousands of new housing units in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, along with hundreds of Palestinian units in Area C, the part of the West Bank under full control of the Israeli government. 

Israeli media reported on Wednesday that Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz had approved the convening of the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration, the Israeli government agency responsible for approving zoning, planning, and construction permits in the West Bank. 

Set to meet next week, the council is expected to discuss plans for the approval of 1,956 units in Israeli settlements, which are scattered across the West Bank and exist in contravention of international law. 

In a rare move, the council is also expected to discuss five plans for Palestinian villages, encompassing 863 housing units in Area C — where Palestinian construction is largely banned by Israel. 

The move to approve Palestinian housing units is being viewed as an effort to appease the Biden administration, which has expressed its opposition to Israel’s continued settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territory. 

“It seems that the approval of a handful of plans for the Palestinians is only intended to try to reduce criticism of the government and to please the US administration ahead of Prime Minister Bennett’s expected visit to Washington in the coming weeks,” settlement watchdog Peace Now said in a statement. 

According to a report from Axios, Biden administration officials said they “expect Israel to avoid provocative steps like demolishing Palestinian homes, evicting Palestinians or establishing new illegal outposts in the West Bank.”

US officials also reportedly raised concerns over settler violence in the West Bank, which has been on the rise in 2021, with rights groups recording hundreds of attacks on Palestinians and their property just in the first few months of this year.

report from The Intercept in July found that on May 14th Israeli settlers committed a number of coordinated attacks, with the cooperation of the Israeli military, that resulted in the killing of four Palestinians. 

In regards to the approval of new settlement plans, Israeli officials told Axios that they “will act in a responsible and reasonable way and avoid provocations regarding settlements. The Biden administration knows we are going to build. We know they don’t like it, and both sides don’t want to reach a confrontation around this issue.”

Aides to Prime Minister Naftali Bennet also said during meetings with US officials the government would “show restraint and base its decisions on needs arising from ‘natural growth’,” Axios reported. 

Peace Now noted, however, that the majority of the plans for the settlements are in settlements “deep in the West Bank, which Israel will have to evacuate under a permanent agreement.”

One of the settlements in question is Har Bracha, which overlooks the Palestinian town of Burin in the Nablus district. Burin and its residents routinely come under attack from Israeli settlers in Har Bracha and other surrounding settlements, who attack Palestinians and their homes, and set fire to their land. 

In 2018, right-wing Israeli settlement leaders doubled down on calls to turn Har Bracha into a “settlement city,” similar to that of the mega settlement Ariel, which houses a university and over 20,000 full-time residents. 

According to Peace Now, if the new plans are pushed forward next week, the number of housing units approved in settlements in 2021 will be 2,741 housing units.

Palestinian plans might not go anywhere

The plans for Palestinian construction that will be discussed in next week’s meeting will concern five Palestinian villages: Al-Ma’asara  (Bethlehem district, 150 units), Bir al-Basha (Jenin district, 270 units), Al-Masqufa (Tulkarem district, 233 units), Khirbet ‘Aaba (Jenin district, 160 units) and Khirbet Zakariya (Bethlehem district, 50 units).

They are among hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages in ‘Area C’ of the West Bank, where Israel controls planning and zoning, and all permits for construction must be approved by Israeli authorities. 

Palestinian applications for construction permits in Area C are routinely rejected, as part of a policy that rights groups say is aimed at restricting Palestinian growth in the West Bank. As a result, many Palestinians build their homes without Israeli approval, subjecting them to Israel’s policy of home demolitions. 

According to Peace Now, many of the plans that will be discussed next week involve preexisting homes that are seeking retroactive approval, so the approval of the 863 units in question would not necessarily mean new Palestinian construction in those areas.

In addition, the group warned that while the Higher Planning Committee will discuss the plans to approve this Palestinian units, it’s likely that the process won’t move far beyond that point. 

“In recent years, almost no new plans have been approved for construction in Palestinian villages in Area C”, the group said, adding that previous Israeli declarations of intent to approve construction for Palestinians resulted in “almost nothing” being formally approved.

In 2017, the government said it would build 5,000 housing units in the Qalqiliya district, but that decision was later revoked due to right-wing pressure. 

In 2019, the Israeli government also decided to approve 700 housing units for Palestinians in Area C, though in practice, nothing was approved.

In October 2020 and January 2021, Peace Now said that three plans for Palestinian villages were approved by Gantz, but then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “brought most of the plans off the agenda.”

“For years, Israel has pursued a policy of blatant discrimination that does not allow almost any construction for Palestinians in Area C, while in the settlements it encourages and promotes the construction of thousands of housing units each year for Israelis,” Peace Now said. 

“The approval of a few hundred housing units for Palestinians cannot cover up discrimination and does not change the fact that Israel maintains an illegal regime of occupation and discrimination in the territories.”

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss