Photo Credit: TPS

by Andrew Friedman

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that the cabinet would revisit a plan to issue 14,000 housing permits for the Palestinian Authority city of Qalkilya, located on the western edge of Samaria, about a five-minute drive from the Israeli city of Kfar Saba. It also abuts Highway 6, a north-south artery that bisects central Israel.

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The plan would see the city of 40,000 expand into Area C, which is under full Israeli control, and potentially adding up to 50,000 people to the city’s population. Qalqilya, like all Palestinian Authority cities in Judea and Samaria, is under the civilian and security control of the Ramallah government, and Israeli Jews are forbidden from entering the area.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) party and other right-wing ministers blasted the plan last week and claimed it had not been reviewed properly in a previous cabinet session.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely praised the decision to reopen talks on the decision, saying building Palestinian Authority homes in the area could endanger Jewish residents.

“It is absolutely the correct decision to reopen discussions on this topic,” Hotovely said in a statement. “We must remain attuned to the concerns of the adjacent [Israeli] communities.”

Other settlement groups seconded Hotovely’s comments, while Bennett praised the move, saying on Twitter that building permits for Palestinian Authority residents at this time would amount to a “prize” for terror attacks. The Yesha Council said in a statement that it would be “inconceivable” for the Palestinian Authority to receive building permits while building in Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria remains severely limited.

The issue began last Wednesday when spokespersons for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published the construction plan as a gesture to U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said that Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are not an obstacle to peace, but asked Netanyahu last month to “hold back” on Israeli construction in the area in order to ease Trump’s peacemaking efforts.

Netanyahu agreed to the request, to the consternation of settlement proponents who celebrated Trump’s election last November and hoped his arrival in the White House would spur a widespread building program throughout Judea and Samaria after eight years of almost zero building during the Obama administration. More recently, settlement leaders such as Samaria Regional Council Head Yossi Dagan and Gush Etzion Council head Shlomo Ne’eman expressed frustration last week with approval of 2,600 new building permits.

They said the permits mainly granted retroactive approval to existing construction and fell far short of their expectations, given a supportive administration in Washington and a nationalist government in Jerusalem.

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