In a speech last week to the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, Secretary of State John Kerry noted that there are “about 11,000 demolition orders for Palestinian homes through the West Bank.” These homes have been built without permits, evidence that unauthorized or illegal building by Palestinians is an ongoing problem in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank solely under Israeli control.
Area C is where all Israeli settlements are located. We have long opposed illegal building by Israelis in the West Bank, such as at the outpost known as Amona, which faces a Dec. 25 evacuation order that even right-wing MK Yehuda Glick admits will likely not be reversed. We similarly oppose unauthorized construction by Palestinians and support the legal process being followed in response to it.
Some argue that there is a fundamental difference between the illegal settler construction in the West Bank and the illegal Palestinian construction. They argue that settlers are trying to bury the two-state solution by heading off any way to create a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank, while much of the illegal Palestinian construction is driven by the failure of Israeli officials to issue timely building permits to Palestinians. That was the case Kerry made, telling the Saban Forum, “In 2014 and 2015 … there was one permit issued to Palestinians to build in Area C.” And EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen said at the Fighting the Boycott conference last month that “out of 2,000 applications lodged between 2009 to 2013, only 34 building permits were granted.”
If there is a problem with “feet dragging” by Israeli officials, that should be addressed. But the failure to issue permits doesn’t legitimize illegal construction. And, in any event, it is disingenuous to ignore that the majority of those engaging in illegal construction in the West Bank — whether Israeli or Palestinian — are doing it for nationalistic reasons. Both sides, whether in Amona or Silwan, are trying to change the “facts on the ground.”
In September, Israel’s security cabinet approved a number of construction projects for Palestinians in Area C. The plan was proposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in an effort to encourage coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ha’aretz reported that the plans include “building permits for public structures and housing units for Palestinians in a number of villages in the West Bank.”
By expanding the system in which legal construction can take place, Israel is showing that it will not oppose Palestinian development. And by evacuating Amona, Israel is demonstrating that no one is above the law.
Both are very important steps if tensions are to subside in the coming years.