Palestinians in the West Bank.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Local Palestinians should be more involved in the planning process for their villages in Area C of the West Bank, the High Court of Justice told the state on Monday. It attempted to increase their statutory rights without interfering with the larger diplomatic issues involved in the frozen peace process.
A panel of three judges gave the state 90 days to come up with such a plan at the end of the hearing on a 2011 petition by Rabbis for Human Rights.
Monday’s debate, the first of its kind since the petition was filed three years ago, was scheduled months in advance.
But it fell just one day after the coordinator for government activities in the territories, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, announced that the state had frozen pending authorizations for master plans for 19 Palestinian villages in retaliation for unilateral PA moves to shore up its legal standing as a state.
The move effectively halts new Palestinian building. The Civil Administration needs authorized master plans to legally approve such construction.
At the heart of the Rabbis for Human Rights petition is the absence of master plans and legal approvals for Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank. In its 2011 petition and again on Monday it asked the court give the Palestinians more power over the development of their villages by reinstalling the local and district planning that had been operational in Area C until 1971.
The state in turn argued that it had already taken many steps to advance Palestinian master plans and authorize building.
The court rejected the idea of resurrecting the local councils, but at the same time told the state the situation was problematic.
“We’re looking for a sensible solution,” Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said. “We can’t determine the results of the [Israeli-Palestinian] negotiations. We’re not involved in them. And we do not even know if they will succeed.”
In the interim, he said, Israel has to deal with a West Bank divided into three sections.
The Palestinian Authority controls Areas A and B, while Area C is under Israeli military and civil control.
It’s a difficult situation, he said, for which he imagined there was a middle of the road solution between the situation as it stands and resurrecting the pre-1971 Palestinian councils.
The state’s attorney, Tadmor Etzion, argued that such a resurrection was not a simple request, but one that struck at the heart of the entire planning process in the West Bank.
This is a matter that should be solved through a final status agreement, Etzion said.
The fact that work on Palestinian master plans was frozen in response to problems in the negotiations proves that point.
But Rabbis for Human Rights argued that the situation makes it impossible for Palestinians to build. It presented documents to the court that showed that only 19 out of 180 Palestinian villages in the West Bank have master plans.
Only 5.3 percent of Palestinian permit requests were granted between the years 2000-12, Rabbis for Human Rights said.
It said that from 1988 to April 2013, 12,570 illegal Palestinian homes had been built in Area C, compared with 6,309 Jewish ones. In 2012, specifically, 1,188 illegal Palestinian homes were built compared with 428 Jewish ones.