RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel recently approved the construction of more than 1,000 housing units for Palestinians in Area C in the West Bank, which accounts for about 61% of the West Bank and is subject to Israel’s full security and administrative control.
The Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth paper reported on Aug. 11 that Defense Minister Benny Gantz made the decision to authorize the construction. According to Palestinian sources quoted by the paper, the decision was then communicated with the Palestinian Authority (PA) through the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian.
The housing units will be built in five villages, namely al-Masara and Khirbat Zakariyya in the Bethlehem governorate, and Bir al-Basha, Khirbet 'Aaba and al-Maskoufa in the Jenin governorate. The decision, however, did not provide any additional details nor specify whether permits will be granted to existing buildings or whether new units will be built after permits are obtained.
The Oslo Accord signed between the PLO and Israel in 1993 classified the West Bank under three different areas: A, B and C. Area A is under the PA’s administrative and security control. Area B is under the PA’s administrative control and Israel’s security control. Area C is under Israel’s administrative and security control.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to demolish Palestinian facilities and houses in Area C under the pretext that they were constructed without a permit. This is while Israeli authorities often refuse to grant building permits to Palestinians in a bid to impose a fait accompli and push the residents to leave.
Palestinians perceive the recent Israeli decision to authorize the construction of housing units with skepticism. Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, told Al-Monitor that speaking of allowing the Palestinians to build in Area C is only “deception and lies.”
He noted that the Israeli announcement was made “to cover up for the construction of settlement units and is part of a policy designed to mislead the international public opinion,” in reference to a report circulated in Israeli media on Aug. 11 about the approval of the construction of 2,200 new settlement units in the West Bank.
Past experiences confirm Palestinians’ doubts regarding the Israeli announcement. The PLO’s National Bureau for Defending Land and Resisting Settlements wrote in a report on Aug. 14 that the former government of Benjamin Netanyahu had approved the construction of 900 housing units for Palestinians in Area C in 2019, but the Israeli Civil Administration only gave permits to six housing units in 2020.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Aug. 12 that the recent Israeli decision is “an attempt to legitimize settlements and boost the image of Israeli settlement-related decisions. It stems from a desire to mislead the international community and public opinion.”
The ministry added that Israel “markets its decision as a very generous offer made to the Palestinian side. Knowingly, these houses are either already built and inhabited by their Palestinian owners or are under construction on Palestinian lands owned by their owners.”
Walid Assaf, head of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, told Al-Monitor that there is no agreement between the PA and Israel on this matter and it is a mere unilateral Israeli decision.
“There are dozens of unlicensed Palestinian villages in Area C, and they are at risk of demolition at any moment. The Palestinians submitted to the Israeli Civil Administration thousands of building permit requests over the past years. Yet they were rejected, which forced them to build anyway given the natural need for urban expansion," Assaf said.
Assaf noted that “Israel has rejected the [expansion of] Palestinian villages, towns and cities for decades, despite the population growth and the need for urban expansion.” He added that Israel may reverse its decision or may delay its enforcement for years.
He warned against the danger of the Israeli decision, which he believes is a cover for other goals, mainly “the settlement expansion in Area C, legitimization of the existing settlement outposts, or the displacement and demolition of residential complexes.”
“Israel seeks to exploit the decision so as to mislead international public opinion,” he said. It is the right of the Palestinians to build in Area C, but Israel wants to introduce the decision as a gift to the Palestinians to win the approval of the new US administration, which opposes settlement expansion in the West Bank, he added.
“The Israeli government is trying to avoid any clash with the US administration given that it (the Israeli government) is a vulnerable and weak coalition. Hence, its recent decision comes to avoid a collision with the US administration in an attempt to win its silence,” Assaf said.
He pointed out that there are more than 30,000 Palestinian buildings and facilities built without permits in Area C that are at risk of demolition at any time, stressing the need to build 50,000 housing units in Area C in the next five years.
Khirbet 'Aaba, located east of Jenin in the northern West Bank, is one of five villages where Israel said it would allow the construction of housing units for Palestinians. The other four villages are also located in Area C.
Mansour Adhamtha, head of the local Khirbet 'Aaba council, told Al-Monitor, “We have not been informed about the Israeli decision by any party so far. We only heard it in the media.” He noted that Khirbet ‘Aaba is home to nearly 1,000 people and 140 houses, all of which lack a building permit.
“Two years ago, the village council submitted to the Israeli Civil Administration an urban plan for the village, which stretches over 420 dunams, for approval. It has not replied yet,” he said.
The situation in the other four villages is no different from Khirbet ‘Aaba. Head of the Bir al-Basha village council Yahya Qadri told Al-Monitor that no one informed them about the decision and that their village, which is 4 kilometers long and 1.5 kilometers wide, is inhabited by about 3,500 people and entirely part of Area C. He also said the houses in the village were built without permits because Israel has not approved any urban plan for the village.