A Palestinian man hangs a Palestinian flag atop the ruins of a mosque, during a snow storm in West Bank village of Mufagara.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Security Cabinet will reconsider a plan to allow the Palestinian city of Kalkilya to expand into Area C of the West Bank by building 14,000 new homes there, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud ministers on Sunday.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), who is a member of the security cabinet and voted against the plan in 2016, tweeted that he welcomed Netanyahu’s decision, as a reevaluation might lead to rescinding the original decision.
“In light of Palestinian incitement, they should not be given the prize of building 14,000 homes along Route 6. I hope that this time everyone [in the security cabinet] will join in this position.”
Likud and Bayit Yehudi ministers had pressured Netanyahu to reconsider the plan to triple the size of Kalkilya, which the security cabinet had approved in 2016.
Later in the day, Netanyahu said the number of homes that could be authorized under the plan had not been part of the discussion.
Two Likud ministers – Israel Katz and Gilad Erdan – have told Army Radio they do not remember voting on the issue.
“I never voted for it” and “never authorized it,” Katz said, adding that he also did not recall that it had ever been debated, including at the meeting where it had supposedly initially been raised.
Katz said it was not possible that he missed the issue because he received the agenda for all missed meetings and did not recall seeing anything so dramatic.
On Sunday night, settlers and Israelis living near Kalkilya inside the Green Line held a protest near the Palestinian city.
Kfar Saba Deputy Mayor Oren Cohen told the protesters that only 2.5 kilometers separated his city, within the Green Line, from that of Kalkilya. This plan, he said, would narrow that gap and push Kalkilya closer in the direction of Kfar Saba.
This would only make it easier for Palestinians to dig a terrorist tunnel between the two cities, he said.
Earlier in the day, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud) told reporters she took issue with the expansion of the city into Area C, which is under full Israeli military and civil control.
Palestinians build “without any limitations” in Areas A and B, the 40% of the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority civil jurisdiction, Regev said, adding there is no reason to allow them to build in Area C.
These permits should not be granted, especially at a time when there are severe limitations on the construction of new Jewish homes beyond the Green Line, she said.
Right-wing politicians are particularly concerned that the plan is a de facto way to transfer the territory to the PA , and it is unlikely that new area of urban Palestinian growth would be retained by Israel in any final status agreement with the Palestinians. There is no Palestinian urban growth in Area C.
The cabinet debate comes as US President Donald Trump has begun a new push to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. As part of that initiative, he has asked Israel to allow for Palestinian building in Area C, and in some cases to transfer portions of that territory to the PA .
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely warned that the plan could endanger the security of the communities around Kalkilya.
Separately, settlers have called on the government to authorize more settler homes so that the number of authorizations for new Jewish homes to remain at least on par with those of the urban Palestinian units.
The Beit El settlement has set up a protest tent outside the Knesset and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem to push Netanyahu to keep to a five-year-old promise to authorize 300 new homes.
Netanyahu made that pledge in 2012 after the High Court of Justice mandated the demolition of 30 illegally built homes in the Ulpana outpost on the outskirts of the settlement.
Beit El spokeswoman Yael Ben Yashar said the units have been authorized, but that Netanyahu has held a publication of tenders that would allow the building to start.
The settlement of more than 6,000 residents is located outside the route of the security barrier and borders the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
On Thursday, MK Ahmed Tibi told Army Radio that the Kalkilya plan was one of five plans to expand Palestinian cities into Area C.
This also includes Ramallah, Tulkarm, Hebron and Jenin, he said.
The Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories has not yet responded to a query with regard to those plans.