State Comptroller: Only 30% of illegal West Bank construction demolished

Between the years 1997-2013, according to the report, the Civil Administration found 20,086 instances of illegal construction in Area C.

SETTLERS WORK on the construction of a house in the outpost of Achia in the Binyamin region (photo credit: REUTERS)
SETTLERS WORK on the construction of a house in the outpost of Achia in the Binyamin region
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF has failed to tackle the widespread phenomenon of illegal West Bank construction, having demolished only 30% of such structures over a 19-year period, the State Comptroller said in a report it issued on Monday.
Between the years 1997-2013, according to the report, the Civil Administration found 20,086 instances of illegal construction in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli civil and military control.
Of those illegal structures, 13,481 were built by Palestinians and 6,605 by Israelis.
In the ensuing 19 years, the Civil Administration razed only 5,620 of those buildings, 3,813 of which belonged to Palestinians and 1,807 to Israelis, the report stated.
It further found that between the years 2008 and 2013, the pace of illegal construction increased, while the number of demolitions decreased.
Forty-six percent of the illegal construction occurred between the years 2008 and 2013, during which time the Civil Administration identified 9,371 instances of illegal building, the state comptroller report said.
Some 6,547 of those structures were Palestinian and 2,824 were Israeli.
Similarly, it said that 24% of the structures that were razed between 1997 and 2013 were taken down within the last six years of that period. This amounted to 1,340 demolitions between 2008 and 2013, of which 925 were Palestinian buildings and 415 were Israeli.
Even illegal structures that are high on the demolition priority list have not yet been leveled, the comptroller’s report said.
From the period of 2008 to 2013, some 221 of the illegal Israel building was on private Palestinian property and 26 of the illegal Palestinian structures were in firing zones, despite the no-tolerance policy for illegal building in these areas.
There were no appeals or requests for building permits filed for these structures. Nothing was stopping the Civil Administration from demolishing them and yet 161 of the 221 structures were listed in the computer as buildings that could not be removed, the report stated.
Left-wing activists and politicians have long lambasted the Civil Administration for failing to enforce building regulations, focusing their activities solely on the issue of unauthorized settler construction, while ignoring the issue of illegal Palestinian building.
Oppositely, right-wing activists and politicians in the last few years have focused on the illegal Palestinian construction and charged that the Civil Administration has failed in tackling that phenomenon.
The comptroller agreed that there was little oversight in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities and ordered the Civil Administration to come up with a plan to deal with the large amount of illegal building that would have the approval of the upper political echelons.
According to the State Comptroller, the Civil Administration does not monitor illegal Palestinian building in Area C communities with zoning plans or in areas that were built up prior to 1983.
The IDF said that illegal Palestinian building was widespread, but that the implications were more serious in areas without a master plan and that as a result, it has focused its energies there.
The State Comptroller rejected that argument and said that the IDF must find a way to enforce building regulations even within areas for which a master plan exists, otherwise it opens itself and the state up to liability issues should buildings collapse. It also suggested that planning and building inspections for Palestinian communities could be expedited if the Civil Administration included Palestinians in the process.
Inspections and supervision of building issues was lax in the settlements, the State Comptroller found, and most of the local and regional councils in the West Bank settlements do not report enforcement actions to the Civil Administration.
The report also took issue with the Civil Administration’s failure to enforce building laws in those settlements traditionally considered to be grandfathered, because they were legalized by the government even though in some cases they were built on private Palestinian property and without zoning plans. It also took the Civil Administration to task for failing to deal with the unauthorized outposts.
The State Comptroller asked the Civil Administration to come up with a plan to deal with these matters.
The comptroller also said that structural issues with in the Civil Administration were impeding the process, including the absence of work plans and the lack of communication between the inspectors and their supervisors.
No work programs to organize the Civil Administration’s activities were created from 2012 to 2014, the State Comptroller report said. No attempts were made to check the proposed budget against the actual funds that were spent in 2012 and 2013, it added.
The priority list for tackling illegal building was not made clear to Civil Administration’s staff, the report said.
In 2013, according to the report, the head of the inspections unit for the Binyamin Region said he had no knowledge of what instructions might exist in the work plan with regard to the monitoring of illegal building in the outposts or regarding infiltration into the firing zones.
Inspectors do not report back after their field visits, he said.
The heads of the Civil Administration do not have an accurate picture of what is happening in the field with regard to illegal building, the report added.
Lack of proper organization and manpower has also impeded the building permitting and appeals process, thereby slowing down the rate of demotions, according to the report.
There is only one staff person who works with the Palestinian sector on the issue of permits and appeals. As of December 2013, there were 1,000 appeals cases waiting to be heard by a committee that meets only twice a month. The appeals process itself could take upwards of two years, the comptroller’s report stated.
According to the State Comptroller, portions of the report were withheld because of its feared impact on Israel’s foreign relations.