Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz has approved a number of Palestinian construction projects in the West Bank, his office announced on Monday.
The permits would legalize hundreds of Palestinian structures in Area C, which makes up some 60 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli security and administrative control.
Israel rarely approves Palestinian construction in Area C, with the overwhelming majority of requests being denied.
Gantz’s step comes in an apparent effort to offset any potential blowback for his approval of some 800 housing units in Israeli settlements earlier in the day.
According to the statement, Gantz had approved the submission of plans for expanding al-Walaja village in the southern West Bank and Hizma village outside Jerusalem.
He further approved plans for constructing a hotel in the Bethlehem area and will attend a hearing on the submission of plans for a hotel in Beit Jala, as well as a hearing on a retroactive approval for agricultural buildings in al-Fara area in the northern West Bank.
Usually, Israel demolishes buildings in Area C, but this rare step came few hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that a Defense Ministry panel would approve plans for over 800 new settler homes days before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to take a harsher view of Israeli settlement expansion than his predecessor, Donald Trump.
At a meeting next week, the Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee will approve the construction of 500 housing units in the West Bank settlements of Itamar, Beit El, Shavei Shomron, Oranit, and Givat Ze’ev, Netanyahu’s office said.
The committee will also advance plans to build 100 units in Tal Menashe and more than 200 homes in the Nofei Nehemia outpost.
Tal Menashe, in the northern West Bank, was the hometown of Esther Horgen, who was killed last month in an attack. Her husband has called for increased settlement construction following her murder.
Alon Cohen-Lifshitz, a researcher at the left-wing Bimkom human rights group, which focuses on construction-related issues, told The Times of Israel that the approvals discussed by Gantz were woefully insufficient compared to the needs of Palestinians.
“This is like mocking the poor,” he said. “Most of the plans are from 2012. They’re all very small in terms of their land use and do not allow for [further] development.”
“While with one hand Netanyahu publishes headlines about expanding Jewish settlement with 800 housing units, with his other hand he approves illegal construction plans by the Palestinian Authority covering hundreds of dunums,” Meir Deutsch, head of the far-right Regavim organization, said in a statement.
The Oslo II Accord divided the West Bank into Areas A, B and C. Area A is under Palestine's complete civil and military control. Area B is under Palestinian civil control but Israeli military control. Area C is under full Israeli civil and military control.
Area C accounts for over 61 percent of the West Bank with some 400,000 Israeli settlement residents living there.
It is very uncommon for Israel to approve Palestinian construction in Area C, resulting in rampant illegal building, which it later often demolishes.
Between 2016 and 2018, just 21, or 0.81 percent, of the 1,485 Palestinian applications for construction permits in Area C were approved by the Defense Ministry.
In 2019, the security cabinet approved — in principle — a record 700 building permits for Palestinians. However, very few of those buildings permits had actually been issued.