Building permits in high demand for densely populated West Bank city

"We are living on top of each other – there is nowhere left to build.”

Home slated for demolition in Area C of Kalkilya (photo credit: ADAM RASGON)
Home slated for demolition in Area C of Kalkilya
(photo credit: ADAM RASGON)
Samih Anaya, a 39-year-old resident of Kalkilya, which abuts the border of the West Bank, built his limestone home without obtaining a permit from Israel. He spent more than NIS 500,000 to erect the home, investing his savings and a sizable loan.
Anaya said he had no choice but to build his home, which is located in Area C under Israeli security and civil control, without a permit.
“It is almost impossible to be granted a permit,” Anaya, who works as a schoolteacher, stated while standing in front of the cast-iron entrance to his home. According to Bimkom, a left-wing NGO, only 53 of 1,253 requests to build in Area C were granted in 2014-2016.
While Anaya has few regrets in building his home, he fears that it could be demolished at any moment. Two years ago, he received a demolition order that he has been fighting in court.
“My home is everything I own,” Anaya remarked. “I don’t know what I would do without it.”
However, a joint Israeli-Palestinian plan for Kalkilya’s Area C, which aims to retroactively legalize some 1,000 unlicensed structures and grant 6,000 additional building permits over 18 years, has given Anaya renewed hope.
“If implemented, the plan would be a major step forward for us,” he said.
In the center of Kalkilya, leaders at the municipality also hope “the Kalkilya expansion plan,” as some have dubbed it, will come to fruition.
“The plan is absolutely necessary,” said newly elected Kalkilya Mayor Hashim al-Masri, looking at a map of the city. “Our citizens need to be able to build.”
According to Masri, the problem is not only that residents’ homes could be demolished, but also that Kalkilya has an extreme population density. “We are living on top of each other – there is nowhere left to build.”
The Oslo Accords afforded Kalkilya relatively small space to grow. The agreement assigned four square kilometers of the city to Area A under Palestinian security and administrative control, while leaving the remaining parts in Area C. Four square kilometers were sufficient to house residents in the 1990s, but the city has grown steadily from 22,000 residents in 1997 to 53,000 today, making Kalkilya the second-most densely populated Palestinian region after Gaza.
With the support of the Israeli defense establishment and the Kalkilya Municipality, the expansion plan appeared to be on its way to becoming a reality. But a handful of government ministers expressed strong opposition to the plan this week, after Channel 2 reported the security cabinet approved it last year, casting doubt over whether the plan will be implemented. According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who claimed he was not apprised of the plan’s details, the topic will be discussed again by the security cabinet. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, however, disputed Netanyahu’s claim, and released a document that included details of the plan, of which he said the prime minister was aware.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, two ministers leading the campaign against the plan, said their primary objection is that it values Palestinian, rather than Israeli, interests.
“The Israeli government must promote Israeli interests in Judea and Samaria, not those of the Palestinians,” they said in a joint statement. “In light of these implications, we will demand a freeze on the plan, until the cabinet can discuss it or until the marketing of 14,000 housing units for Israelis in Area C.”
While Israel holds it has the right to build in Area C, most of the international community considers Israeli construction there illegitimate.
A senior official in the Palestinian Authority, who was deeply involved in the development of the plan, said Bennett should realize the plan is in both Israel’s and the PA’s interests.
“Not implementing the plan is a security threat to Israel,” the official said. “When people despair and feel they have nothing else to lose, time-ticking bombs emerge. We need this plan to give hope to the people of Kalkilya. We must show them that a better future is around the corner. If we do that, we will be supporting the peace camp and undermining the terror camp in Palestine.”
The official said that he first started discussing the plan with Israeli security officials in 2011, adding that he has since participated in over 100 meetings with Israeli official regarding the plan.
“We reached understandings with the Israelis,” he said. “So we don’t understand how they could try to walk away at this point.”
The official also said that Kalkilya is not the only place in Area C where Israel agreed to allow building. According to the official, Israel also agreed to grant building permits to Palestinians in Nabi Ilyas, Hilba, and Azun.
US President Donald Trump’s peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and senior adviser Jared Kushner met with Israeli and Palestinian officials Wednesday to discuss ways to revive the peace process. Masri said he hopes that Greenblatt and Kushner will raise the issue with Netanyahu.
“America is the ally of Israel, but it’s also the mediator,” Masri said. “So we believe they have the ability to intervene with Israel and help us.”