The IDF’s hands are tied when it comes to tacking illegal Beduin construction in Area C of the West Bank because it has been ordered to freeze building plans for those herding communities, Civil Administration deputy head Col. Uri Mendez said Tuesday.
“The upper political echelon has directed us not to advance these plans,” Mendez told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee sub-group on Judea and Samaria, in the midst of an overall presentation on illegal construction in Area C of the West Bank. The FADC sub-group has been particularly concerned about illegal Palestinian and Beduin construction in Area C.
Right-wing politicians, even those who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, fear such illegal construction is an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to claim sections of Area C for its future state that otherwise would have been drawn into Israel’s final borders in any final status agreement for a two-state solution.
They are pressuring the IDF to demolish such building.
Tuesday morning’s hearing was the latest political attempt to highlight the problem of illegal construction.
Israel, in turn, is under pressure from the international community, including the European Union and the United States to approve more housing plans for the Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank, which is under the Israel’s military and civilian control.
They, along with Left-wing groups, have argued that Palestinians and Beduin build illegally because they lack master plans for their communities that would allow for legal construction.
Mendez told the committee that the Civil Administration is in the midst of developing nine master plans to provide the Beduin in Area C with permanent homes, to replace the modular ones they now have.
However, petitions have been filed to the High Court of Justice against these plans, Mendez said. On top of that, he said, the upper political echelon has ordered his office to halt work on those master plans.
The HCJ has stated that, in many cases, the modular illegal Beduin construction can’t be taken down until the Civil Administration can offer these communities alternative housing, Mendez stated.
But to do that, its Higher Planning Council must be able to approve the plans, Mendez said.
Former Bayit Yehudi parliamentarian Orit Struck didn’t accept Mendez’s claim that the government was at fault, and instead blamed Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of COGAT, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, who she charged was implementing his own policies and disregarding those of the government.
“He is running a state within a state,” Struck said.
To which Labor MK Hilik Bar shot back: “Those are very serious accusations,” and Struck responded: “Yes, they are.”
Mendez also provided the committee with data about illegal Palestinian and settler building in Area C, saying that, in the last decade, 24 masters plans have been approved for Palestinian construction and 77 for Israeli building.
For all of 2015 and half of 2016, the rate of illegal construction was higher among Palestinians than Israelis, he said.
The Civil Administration identified 1,994 instances of illegal construction of which 1,398 was in the Palestinian sector and 596 in the Israeli sector, Mendez said.
The bulk of the illegal Palestinian construction, 1,058 instances, was on their private property, he said, while an additional 145 instances of construction were on state land; 143 on survey land; and 21 in IDF Firing Zones.
With respect to the 596 instances of illegal settler building, 174 of those structures were on private Palestinian property, 317 were on state land and 105 on survey land.
The Civil Administration demolished 43 percent of all illegal construction, taking down 858 structures, of which 600 belonged to Palestinians and 258 belonged to settlers.
Taking a broader view, he estimated that 1,100 Palestinian structures were constructed annually in the West Bank of which 41%, or 450 structures, were taken down in any given year.
At no point did Mendez quantify if the building he had referred to was permanent or modular construction; most of the buildings the IDF removes both in settlers outposts and Palestinian and Beduin herding communities is modular.
MK Motti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) who heads the FADC subgroup, described the phenomenon of such building, particularly those structures given to the Palestinians from the international community, as “terrorist construction disguised as humanitarian aid.”
The European Union, in particular, has been public about its decision to provide the Beduin with modular homes, even if they are illegally constructed, because it sees itself as giving shelter to the homeless, a move it says is allowed under international law.
Yogev charged at the subgroup meeting, however, that “foreign countries are doing what they want here.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), meanwhile, said the Civil Administration’s enforcement actions against illegal Palestinian construction were a “complete failure,” and said there is a huge gap between the figures that are presented here and what is actually happening on the ground.
Some of this data “is false,” he charged.
Meanwhile, Yariv Aharoni of the Jerusalem Periphery Forum said he felt the Civil Administration was dismissive of information he had provided it with regard to illegal Palestinian construction.
“It’s because of you that the Palestinian Authority is building a terrorist state under our noses,” he said.
Separately, Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, visited the West Bank on Tuesday, and together with PA officials, inaugurated a new EU-funded road at Khirbat Um al Lahem in Area C near Jerusalem.