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Israeli state given 10 days to respond on Area C planning authority

April 13, 2015 4:54 P.M. (Updated: April 17, 2015 7:20 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Israeli High Court of Justice on Sunday accepted an affidavit blasting the Israeli Civil Administration's planning system in Palestinian Area C, and has given the Israeli state 10 days to reply.

The affidavit, prepared by Professor Rassem Khamaiseh, was presented during the second court hearing on an appeal demanding the restoration of planning authority in Area C to Palestinians.

The appeal was first lodged in 2011 by a range of human rights organisations, including Rabbis for Human Rights, the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, in addition to local Palestinian authorities.

Khamaiseh, who heads the Jewish-Arab Center and is a professor at the University of Haifa, has actively worked with the Israeli Civil Administration on the planning of Palestinian communities.

According to Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), Khamaiseh's affidavit accused Civil Administration planning institutions of being "plagued by a lack of understanding of, and disrespect for Palestinian culture," and said that "the lack of Palestinian representation in planning institutions harms the planning process very seriously."

RHR said that in the first hearing, held last year, High Court judges said that they would not force the state to make a fundamental change in the planning structure in Area C, but that the current situation was unacceptable.

They ordered the state to come up with an institutional change to increase the involvement of Palestinians in planning their communities.

The state proposed a non-binding "consultation" procedure.

However, RHR said this was nothing new, as Palestinians can already submit proposals to the Civil Administration and they are routinely rejected.

Khamaiseh's affidavit on Sunday pointed out that the "consultation" procedure would change nothing as it does not impose an obligation on the Civil Administration to honor the wishes of the residents.

The High Court has given the state ten days to reply, after which time the judges will decide how to proceed.

'Not a political issue'

The initial appeal calls for the restoration of planning authority in Area C to Palestinians.

It points to the fact that Palestinian building permits are almost never approved in Area C, while those Palestinians who do build live under the constant threat of demolition. Meanwhile, nearly all building permits in illegal Israeli settlements are approved.

The appeal is directed against the Israeli Minister of Defense, Israel's West Bank military commander, the head of Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank, and the Israeli High Planning Council.

Israeli authorities claim that the issue must be resolved through peace negotiations, but those who lodged the appeal say it is not a political issue, but one concerning planning and housing.

Under the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Area C makes up 61 percent of the occupied West Bank and is under full military and administrative control by Israel.

In January, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said: "The planning policies applied by Israel in Area C and East Jerusalem discriminate against Palestinians, making it extremely difficult for them to obtain building permits. As a result, many Palestinians build without permits to meet their housing needs and risk having their structures demolished."

OCHA said that in 2014 "Israeli forces demolished 590 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,177 people -- the highest level of displacement in the West Bank since OCHA began systematically monitoring the issue in 2008."

'An integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories'

Last month, EU representatives condemned Israel's failure to meet its obligations to Palestinians in Area C, as the EU donated €3.5 million ($3.83 million) for infrastructure projects to support Palestinian communities in Area C.

While the Israeli Civil Administration is nominally responsible for developing infrastructure in the area, nearly all development only supports Israeli settlers illegally living in the area, while efforts to develop existing Palestinian communities are thwarted.

As a result, Palestinians in Area C lack basic services and infrastructure including roads, waste treatment facilities, water facilities, and access to medical facilities, while gaining construction permits is generally impossible.

EU signer of the funding agreement Michael Kohler stressed the serious limitations faced by the Palestinian Authority in promoting social and economic development of Palestinian communities, while EU representative John Gatt-Rutter emphasized that Area C is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory, comprised of crucial natural resources and land for a viable Palestinian State.

Gatt-Rutter added: "Without this area, the two state solution -- that we have invested in for years -- will be impossible."
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