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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Israel to authorize 900 Palestinian homes amid fight over Area C

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz has agreed to expand the Palestinian foothold in Area C of the West Bank by about 900 homes, in a step seen as a blow to the right-wing battle to preserve that territory for sovereign Israel.

The Civil Administration rarely grants Palestinians approval to build in Area C, which is under IDF military and civil control.

Next week, however, the Civil Administration plans to hold a hearing on the potential authorization of at least 863 homes, many of which were illegally built.

The potential shift in Israel’s policy toward Palestinian building in Area C comes as the Civil Administration is slated next week to advance plans for over 2,223 settler homes in Area C.

The plans for the new homes — which include many in isolated settlements — mark the first significant push for new Jewish homes in Area C since US President Joe Biden entered office in January and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took up his post in May.

It breaks what the Right had described as a de-facto freeze in settlement planning.

The Civil Administration published schedules for hearings on both settler and Palestinian building plans after CIA Director William Burns, who is in Israel, held separate meetings with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday and Gantz on Wednesday.

In Burns’ meeting with Gantz, the two men “discussed various initiatives for intelligence cooperation and the need to strengthen the Palestinian Authority as well as additional moderate actors in the region,” the Defense Ministry said.

Israel has been under pressure from the US to make gestures to the PA, and to halt unilateral actions such as settlement activity and the demolition of illegal Palestinian homes.

The international community has particularly taken Israel to task over the Palestinian demolitions in light of the absence of building permits.

The two issues have also created controversy within Bennett’s coalition. The Israeli Right that includes Bennett’s Yamina Party as well as New Hope has opposed Palestinian building in Area C, which it holds should be included in Israel’s sovereign borders.

The PA, the left-wing flank of Bennett’s government such as the Meretz party and most of the international community believe that Area C should be included within the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Bennett’s attempt through Gantz to mollify US, international and domestic objections to settlement activity with plans for Palestinian building comes in advance of his anticipated first meeting with Biden in Washington.

No date has been set for the parley, which could happen later this month or at the end of September.

There were a number of attempts during former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure to advance larger-scale Palestinian building in Area C, particularly during the Obama administration, but none ever came to fruition.

The Civil Administration approved a smaller scale plan for 140 Palestinian homes in Area C in January at the end of the Trump administration, when it advanced plans for over 780 settler homes.

In 2020, two other small plans allowed for 245 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, in that same year plans for 12,159 settler homes were advanced, including some 3,500 for Ma’aleh Adumim’s E1 project. In practical terms ground was broken in 2020 for only 1,145 settler homes in 2020.

According to the left-wing group Peace Now, only 98 housing permits were granted to Palestinians from 2009-2018.

The Palestinian plans the Civil Administration is set to debate next week include 150 units Al-Ma’asara near Bethlehem and 50 in Khirbet Zakariya  in the Gush Etzion region. Three housing approvals in the area of Jenin include 270 units in Bir al-Basha,  233 in Al-Masqufa and 160 Khirbet ‘Aaba.

Opponents of Palestinian building in Area C issued alarm bells over the pending authorizations, while supporters said that the pending 863 permits were just a fraction of what was needed.

Land of Israel Caucus co-chair MKs Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Orit Struck (Religious Zionist Party) warned that the Bennett’s government was setting a “dangerous precedent” with respect to Palestinian building while throwing crumbs to the settlers. It plans to hold an emergency meeting in the Knesset.

This move “is a de-facto adoption of the Palestinian Authority’s plans to take over the land of Israel,” said MK Michal Waldiger (Religious Zionist Party).

The Meretz Party took issue with the settlement construction and called on Gantz to notify the Higher Planning Council that he would not allow ground to be broken on the settler housing plans once they are approved.

Such building would be seen as an “act of defiance” to the the international community, Meretz said. It also warned that it went against the principle of consensus on which the coalition was founded. 

Peace Now took issue with the plans for over 2,000 settler homes, which it warned “undermines the chances of restoring the Palestinians’ trust and pokes a finger in the Biden administration’s eye.”

The left-wing group Combatants for Peace said “the outrageous decision to deepen the occupation project violates the status quo, as well as the coalition agreements.”

Out of the Some1,315 will be deposited for further discussion. This include 399 homes in the Revava settlement, 377 in Kedumim, 156 in Givat Ze’ev, 100 in Elon Moreh, 100 in Sansana, 86 in Ofarim, 45 in Vered Yericho, 27 in Karnei Shomron, 18 in Elon Moreh and seven in Hermesh.Another 908 will be validated for final approval. This includes 292 in the Kfar Etzion settlement, 286 in Har Bracha, 105 in Elon Shvut, 83 in Karnei Shomron, 58 in Beit El, 42 in Givat Z’ev, 28 in Barkan, 14 in Ma’leh Michmash.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.


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