Only 32 construction plans and permits were approved for Palestinians in Area C in 2019-2020, while over 18,000 plans and permits were approved for Israelis during the same period, according to data collected by left-wing NGO Peace Now and published on Sunday.
Between 2009 and 2018, only 98 construction permits for Palestinians were issued out of the 4,422 requests for permits that were filed. A few dozen of the permits issued between 2016 and 2018 were for alternative housing for those living in the illegal West Bank herding village of Khan al-Ahmar who were meant to be relocated. The buildings have not yet been built and the residents have not been relocated.
According to Peace Now, data from the Civil Administration, which is in charge of Israeli and Palestinian life in Area C, is limited so they don’t always have access to information such as how many requests for approval were filed, the issuing of permits or the exact number of units requested in approved plans. Getting data from the administration can take months if not years, so some of the data was obtained from the protocols of the Higher Planning Council (HPC) of the Civil Administration which have been published regularly online in recent years.
While in Israeli settlements, planning is done by the HPC and construction permits are approved and issued by the local councils of each settlement, outside of the settlements the entire process goes through the Civil Administration. Area C which is under Israeli military and civilian control, is where all Israeli settlements are located.
In terms of Palestinian appeals against demolition orders, only one appeal out of 313 was accepted between 2019 and 2020. The appeal that was accepted allowed the Palestinians to file a detailed plan to try to approve the construction, according to Peace Now.
Some 11 Palestinian permits were approved in 2020 and three permits were approved in 2019 for construction.
Some 16 plans for new construction were approved from 2019 to 2020, including a factory in Anata, a resort in Kabatiya and a clinic in Beit Jala, among other plans.
Palestinians and foreign officials argue that the difficulties Palestinians face in obtaining permits lead many Palestinians to build illegally. From 2015 to 2019, less than 4% of Palestinian applications for building permits were approved, according to information provided to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) by the Civil Administration.
According to the OCHA, 665 Palestinian structures were demolished in Area C in 2020, despite promises made by Israel in April to halt demolitions of inhabited structures during the coronavirus pandemic. Another 76 structures have already been demolished this year.
In comparison to the few approvals granted to Palestinians, some 16,098 housing units in Israeli settlements were approved by the HPC from 2019 to 2020 and at least 2,233 housing units were approved by the municipalities of settlements according to partial data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
So far in 2021, there have been two hearings in the Planning and Licensing subcommittee, but no protocol has yet been published, according to Peace Now. One hearing was on 15 appeals against demolition orders.
The Prime Minister’s Office reportedly tried to cancel the second hearing due to pressure from settlers. No decisions were made in the hearing, but Peace Now believes that a plan to legalize 70 existing housing units and the addition of 70 new housing units in the Palestinian village of Hizma will be approved and the plan for the Palestinian village of Walaja will be conditioned on the approval of a new bypass road for Israeli settlers.
The HPC has apparently not approved a plan to legalize a school in the Bedouin community of Wadi A-Sik in the western Jordan Valley, but has apparently approved two hotels, an amusement park and a 200 sq.m. cooling building for a Palestinian farmer in the Jordan Valley.
Peace Now noted that there are indications that the Planning and Licensing subcommittee may be making at least some more effort to allow Palestinian construction plans. The plans brought for discussion include 35 units in Al-Arus (Zif), 210 units in A-Tuwani, 140 units in Hizma and an unknown number of units in Walaja. According to Peace Now such plans were rarely even seen in past discussions.
Concerning plans to build in the E1 area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, located near Jerusalem, the local committee for planning and construction of Ma’aleh Adumim sent a summons on Sunday to Peace Now to join a hearing at the committee set for later this month to discuss the planned construction of about 3,412 housing units in E1.
While the committee has no authority to approve or reject the construction plans, it is customary for local committees to discuss plans and objections before they reach the HPC, which does have the authority to approve or reject the plans.
Peace Now stated that they do not know who initiated the meeting of the local council and if there is an intention to also convene the HPC on the issue soon. The meeting comes a little less than a year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advanced the project by depositing plans for the construction of 3,412 homes in E1. Israel considers Ma’aleh Adumim and the E1 section essential to safeguard a unified Jerusalem. Peace Now has filed an objection to the plan.
Tovah Lazaroff and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.