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Reports show construction plans for Palestinians in Area C an 'exaggeration'

June 20, 2017 9:31 P.M. (Updated: June 21, 2017 2:02 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Amid an Israeli media firestorm and outrage from ultra right-wing Israeli politicians in recent days over plans to allow the construction of thousands of housing units for Palestinians in Area C, new reports have emerged, revealing that the plans would allow for far less construction than previously thought, and would not begin for nearly two decades.

Israeli news daily Haaretz reported on Tuesday that previous reports saying 14,000 housing units would be built in Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control -- was an “exaggeration,” and that in reality, “an examination of the relevant documents shows that the plan calls for building only some 5,000 homes over the next 18 years.”

The plans in question, which Haaretz highlighted were not new, and were actually approved by the Israeli security cabinet nine months ago, would 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.

According to Haaretz, the plans for Qalqilya first came before the Israeli civil administration’s planning committees in April 2013, while the decision to make the plans public were made in September 2016 by the security cabinet.

“The plan covers an area of 4,428 dunams (1,107 acres), of which 62 percent, or 2,679 dunams, are zoned for residential construction while the rest is zoned for public areas, a zoo, a sports center and more,” Haaretz said, adding that the construction of thousands of homes would not begin immediately, but would be implemented gradually, over 18 years.

The plans were based on a calculation that by 2035, the population of Qalqilya would be 80,000.

Haaretz, along with several other Israeli media websites including Ynet and the Times of Israel, pointed out that while documents on the Planning Administration website do in fact refer to 14,000 housing units, “this number is defined as ‘the nominal potential capacity’ of the master plan’s area if only high-rise housing was built, with no low-rise homes or public areas at all.”

The same documents, Haaretz said, say that the “realistic capacity” of the plan -- the number of homes the area will actually contain by 2035 -- is less than half that number, at 6,187 units.

Additionally, of the 6,187 units, 1,000 have already been built without Israeli permission and will be legalized retroactively, Haaretz reported, meaning only around 5,000 new housing units will actually be built.

While a number of right-wing Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed they were not fully aware of the plans, ultra-right wing Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has been pushing the plan, said that “high-level meetings in which ministers were informed of the plan were recorded and transcribed,” according to a Monday report from the Times of Israel.

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."

Right-wing Israeli politicians denounced the agreement made between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli officials to rescind some of Israel’s control in Area C, 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.

Initial outrage from right-wing officials over the plans were also framed around the claim that Israeli settlement expansion was being hindered at the same time, despite the fact that on Tuesday, construction began on the first new illegal Israeli settlement to be built in the occupied West Bank in 25 years.

"After decades, I have the privilege to be the first prime minister to build a new community in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said during an announcement Tuesday, using an Israeli term for the occupied West Bank. “There has never been nor will there be a better government for the settlement movement than our government."

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.

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.

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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