PA plans to bypass Israel by issuing construction permits, rebuilding demolished homes

Palestinian Minister of Local Government Majdi al-Saleh has recently announced he will be issuing permits that allow Palestinians to build houses in Area C of the West Bank, ignoring the need for Israeli approvals.

al-monitor US President Bill Clinton (C) looks on as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (L) and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat shake hands after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord at the White House in Washington, Sept. 13, 1993.  Photo by REUTERS/Gary Hershorn.

Mar 2, 2020

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — During an inspection tour in the West Bank village of Susya, Palestinian Minister of Local Government Majdi al-Saleh said Feb. 19 that his ministry is to start issuing construction permits for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank and that the Ministry’s Higher Planning Council is to approve next month structural plans for these areas.

Saleh said that the Palestinian government will protect these Palestinian permits from the Israeli authorities and will proceed to rebuild houses that Israel demolishes.

About 400,000 Palestinians live in Area C, which accounts for about 61% of the West Bank and is subject to Israeli security and administrative control, as stipulated in the Oslo II Accord between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel in 1995.

Israel rejects the majority of Palestinian construction requests in this area. According to a report issued in February 2019 by the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B'Tselem, Palestinians submitted 5,475 requests to the Israeli authorities to obtain construction permits between 2000 and mid-2016, but only 226, or about 4% of the requests, were approved.

Israel proceeds to demolish Palestinian houses built with no Israeli permits. The same report indicated that from 2006 until the end of 2018, the Israeli authorities demolished at least 1,401 Palestinian houses in the West Bank, thus leading to the displacement of at least 6,207 Palestinians, including at least 3,134 children.

And a report issued by the Israeli Peace Now movement in October says Israel agreed in 2014 to the building of 8,337 new settlement units in the West Bank, an increase of approximately 50% compared with 2018.

Saleh told Al-Monitor that the government is to start issuing construction permits in mid-March “in response to the Israeli demolition policy adopted in PA areas. The decision is a continuation of the government’s decision to revoke the Palestinian recognition of the regional classifications in the West Bank.”

In response to Israel's earlier demolition of Palestinian houses in areas under the PA administrative control in East Jerusalem, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced during a Cabinet meeting in Ramallah on July 22 that the PA will no longer abide by the classification of the West Bank areas as stipulated in the Oslo Accords.

He explained that his ministry will grant house construction licenses to more than 28,000 Palestinians in Area C. These are requests that Israel had refused in recent years.

Saleh pointed out that in recent years, the PA submitted to Israel 116 structural plans to expand Palestinian villages and towns in Area C, but Israel has yet to approve such plans.

He added, “After the Palestinian government decided not to recognize the classifications in the West Bank, we no longer need Israeli approval to expand our villages and towns in Area C, and we have called on all municipal councils in Area C to start expanding structural plans in the Palestinian villages and towns there based on the Palestinian population growth needs.”

Hanna Issa, a professor of international law at Al-Quds University, told Al-Monitor that the decision of the Palestinian government to grant construction permits to Palestinians in Area C is consistent with international law and all international decisions that consider these lands as part of the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

“All Israeli demolitions in these areas are illegal under international law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention, which stipulates the need to protect civilians in times of war and occupation. These are deemed war crimes that require accountability,” Issa added.

Abdel-Raouf Salah, 68, has been living with his wife and five children in a cave for eight years now. The cave sits on his 110-dunum ​​land, located in Salfit in the West Bank. Israel, he said, has been preventing him from repairing the run-down house his father had built on their land before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967.

Salah told Al-Monitor, “I lived in this house for many years until it was run-down. Some of its parts are uninhabitable, and when I applied for a permit to rebuild my house, Israel refused it on the grounds that my land was within a closed military zone.”

He pointed out that four of his children have the intention to get married but are incapable of building a house on their land without an Israeli permit.

Salah is very happy about the Palestinian government's decision to grant construction permits to Palestinians in Area C, but he expressed fears that the Israeli authorities would demolish the house once it is built.

The government’s pledge to rebuild any Palestinian houses that Israel demolishes in Area C does not seem to reassure Salah.

“Given the difficult financial crisis plaguing the Palestinian government due to the decline in foreign grants, I think it will be difficult to honor this commitment,” he added.

Walid Assaf, head of the PLO-affiliated Wall and Settlement Resistance Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The decision marks a new phase whereby Palestinian rights will be respected in Area C.”

Assaf indicated that this decision has been taken because Palestinians there need to build and expand their towns in light of the increasing population growth.

He noted that the number of Palestinians has tripled in these areas since the signing of the Oslo Accords.

He expected Israel to demolish the houses built with Palestinian permits, but said, “This will not stop us from using our right to build houses in our Palestinian lands. The Ministry of Local Government, in cooperation with the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, will create a fund for the reconstruction of Palestinian houses that Israel destroys in Area C.”

He said this fund will be financed by contributions from the government, municipalities and local councils in these areas in order to allow owners of demolished houses to cover reconstruction expenses.

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