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Israeli officials call for government to scrap plan for Palestinian housing in Area C

June 19, 2017 2:38 P.M. (Updated: June 21, 2017 2:03 P.M.)
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 4, 2015. (AFP/Gali Tibbon, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A number of Israeli officials have called on the Israeli government to cancel a plan that would allow for the construction of 14,000 housing units for Palestinians in Area C -- the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli military control.

On Wednesday, reports emerged that the Israeli security cabinet had approved in late 2016 a plan to expand the municipal boundaries of the city of Qalqiliya in the northern West Bank into Area C, where Palestinians are essentially prohibited from building or developing without quasi-impossible to obtain Israeli permits.

However, right-wing Israeli leaders have called for the plan to be abandoned, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that he had not been aware of the extent of the plan when it was pushed forward by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The Times of Israel quoted a statement by the prime minister’s office as saying that Netanyahu “didn’t remember he had been presented with the fact that (the plan) would include 14,000 new apartments,” with a spokesperson implying to the Israeli newspaper that Lieberman had omitted the information when presenting the plan.

The Times of Israel added that Netanyahu’s office did not confirm or deny reports that the prime minister could rescind the decision to go ahead with the plan to expand Qalqiliya.

Meanwhile, Israeli news outlet Ynet quoted Israeli Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin on Sunday as saying that “the details that are being clarified regarding the cabinet's decision regarding the building permits on the Qalqiliya issue appear to be a very serious blow, and reflect the reality of actions that are contrary to the declared policy of the government."

A spokesperson for Lieberman’s office did not immediately respond to Ma’an’s request for comment.

The planned expansion of Qalqiliya has been seen as part of Lieberman’s “carrot and stick” policy, whereby harsher punishment would be imposed upon families and villages from which Palestinian "terrorists" originate, while economic benefits would be granted to areas that "have not produced terrorists."

The revelations of plans to expand Palestinian access in Area C came following an agreement made between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli officials, reportedly as a result of US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region last month, to rescind some of Israel’s control in Area C, as one of several steps aimed at easing the economic situation for Palestinians in the West Bank.

However, right-wing Israeli politicians have denounced the agreement, fearing that such a move could permanently relinquish large parts of Area C to a future Palestinian state should a two-state solution ever be reached between Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the international community pushing for a two-state solution along 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, a number of far-right Israelis have called for the annexation of more territory to Israel -- with demands ranging from the incorporation of major illegal settlement blocs in the occupied Palestinian territory into Israel to the full annexation of the West Bank.

The 1995 Oslo Accords between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israeli authorities divided the West Bank into Area A, B, and C. Area A, comprising the populated Palestinian cities and making up 18 percent of the West Bank, would be controlled by the newly formed PA, while Area B remained under Israeli army control with the PA controlling civil affairs. Area C, the majority of the West Bank, however, was placed under full Israeli military control and contains the majority of natural resources and open spaces in the Palestinian territory.

The Israeli-controlled land was expected to be gradually transferred to the PA over a five-year period, according to the Oslo agreements. Yet, almost two decades later, the land has remained under Israeli control.

Area C, along with East Jerusalem, has been the site of rapid Israeli settlement expansions in contravention of international law, while Israel’s separation wall has further divided Palestinian communities and has restricted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from even visiting what was intended to be their capital.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces demolished 1,093 Palestinian homes across the occupied Palestinian territory in 2016 alone, displacing 1,601 Palestinians.

At least 417 Palestinians have already been displaced since the start of this year as a result of Israeli demolitions, according to UN documentation. Palestinian authorities have claimed that the new agreement with Israeli officials could curb these routine demolitions of Palestinian homes in Area C.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem reported that in 2016 Palestinians experienced the highest number of Israeli demolitions since the group began recording the incidents. At the same time, settlement watchdog Peace now reported that Israel’s illegal settlement construction in the West Bank increased by 34 percent in 2016, with Israeli authorities initiating construction on 1,814 new settler housing units.

In recent weeks, Israeli authorities have announced plans to advance approximately 2,500 new Israeli housing units in the occupied Palestinian territory, including 102 housing units in Amichai, Israel’s first new official settlement in more than two decades.

NGO Peace Now estimated earlier this month that the number of settlement housing units promoted in the first half of 2017 was almost double that of all of 2016.

According to Palestinians and rights groups, Israel’s overall goal, both in its policies in Area C and Israel’s settlement enterprise, is to depopulate the land of its Palestinian residents and replace them with Jewish Israeli communities in order to manipulate population demographics in all of historic Palestine.
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