Restrictions on Palestinian planning and construction in Area C

Restrictions on Palestinian planning and construction in Area C

30 Oct 2013

Family after their home was demolished in Fasayil, Jordan Valley. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 13 March 2012
Family after their home was demolished in Fasayil, Jordan Valley. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 13 March 2012.

Israel’s policy in Area C is anchored in a perception of the area as meant above all to serve Israel’s own needs: development of Israeli settlements, military exercises, economic interests, and so forth. Consequently, the policy restricts Palestinian construction and development and ignores the needs of the Palestinian population. The Civil Administration strictly enforces this policy through its arsenal of legal, planning and administrative tools.

Areas where construction is prohibited

The Civil Administration prohibits Palestinian construction in vast areas of the West Bank, citing various rationales, and designates them almost exclusively for settlements, the military and Israeli infrastructure facilities (there is some overlap among the following categories):

  • 36.5% of Area C lands are defined by Israel as "state land"
  • 63% of Area C lands are under the jurisdiction of the settlements' local and regional councils.
  • About 20% of Area C lands are defined as "survey land" - lands that were not registered or declared state land and whose status is under examination by the authorities with a view to retaining them as government property and enabling the state to use them.
  • 30% of Area C lands are defined as "firing zones", most located in the Jordan Valley. About 5,000 Palestinians live in these areas in dozens of communities.
  • 14% of Area C lands have been declared nature reserves or national parks.
  • 3.5% Area C lands are located between the Separation Barrier – either already built or under construction – and the Green Line.

After deducting for overlap among the various areas described above, Palestinians are prohibited from building on some 70% of Area C.

Restrictive planning processes

The prohibitions that prevent Palestinians from building on state land, in military firing zones, in nature reserves and alongside major roads leave only about 30% of Area C land on which constructions is not a priori prohibited. The Civil Administration, however, imposes severe restrictions even in these areas. In 1971, in breach of international law, Israel changed the Jordanian law that had applied to the Occupied Territories: A military order did away with the local and district planning committees which enabled representation of the local population in the planning process, and transferred exclusive authority over planning processes to the Civil Administration.

The Civil Administration has used its control over these processes to limit Palestinian building almost entirely, proffering various explanations over the years for its refusal to plan villages. The justifications include saying that a village is situated within an archeological site, that there are land reserves in nearby Palestinian communities which the Civil Administration has chosen to plan and which it proposes as relocation sites for residents of villages without master plans; and the designation of villages as “collections of illegal structures” which, based on planning considerations, should not be authorized. The Civil Administration relies on these pretexts even in the case of villages that have existed for decades, and even when the villages are located on their residents' own private lands.

To date, the Civil Administration has avoided approving any master plan at all for over 90% of the villages located entirely within Area C. Consequently, these plans are still subject to the British mandate-era sub-district master plans which were approved in the 1940s and remained in force under Jordanian rule in the West Bank. Under these plans, most of the land that is currently part of Area C is designated as agricultural land where construction is extremely limited. The Civil Administration, however, refuses to allow even this construction and uses the plans only for the purpose of issuing demolition orders for Palestinian structures built without permits. The master plans the Civil Administration did draft for Palestinian communities are few and insufficient. Between 1987 and 1995, the Civil Administration drafted 380 master plans for villages in the West Bank. Apart from six villages located in what is today Area C, the other hundreds of planned villages are located in Areas A and B. However, they include approximately 150 villages for which the plan also covers sections of the village now designated Area C. From 2006 to 2008, the Civil Administration approved master plans for another ten villages in Area C, so that currently there are master plans for only 16 – less than a tenth – of the 180 Palestinian villages located entirely within Area C. In addition, plans have been approved for the permanent village established by the Civil Administration near the Abu Dis landfill for the Bedouin Jahalin tribe evicted from the Ma’ale Adumim area.

All of the approved master plans were drafted by the Civil Administration without participation by local residents. The boundaries set forth in these plans were determined according to the already built-up areas of each village at the time of planning and did not designate lands for public use such as for schools or medical clinics. The entire area of the plans covers only about one half of one percent of Area C. The limited building area these master plans designated not only excluded open lands that were available for development, but sometimes even excluded existing structures at the village outskirts.

Israeli NGO Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights submitted objections on behalf of villagers to five of the plans for Area C villages that the Civil Administration filed for public comment since 2006. Some of the objections were the following: the non-inclusion of village residents in drafting the plan, limited coverage, exclusion of existing structures from the built-up area in the plan, and the high density slated for the village as planned. The Civil Administration accepted some of Bimkom’s objections and decided to draft revised plans for the villages. In 2010 the Civil Administration decided to retain the services of a private Palestinian planning company to prepare master plans for Area C villages. The Civil Administration even began including representatives of the PA in the planning sessions. About twenty master plans for Area C villages, part of whose land is in Area B, are currently undergoing an outside planning process on behalf of the Civil Administration.

In 2011, the Civil Administration published, for the first time, a list of criteria it reportedly uses in deciding whether to prepare a master plan for built-up areas in Area C. These criteria relate to the size of the built-up area; age and density of the structures; proximity to an existing community, a nature reserve or an archeological site; and the possibilities of erecting public buildings and infrastructure. On the strength of these criteria, the Civil Administration has already dismissed planning for existing villages, ignoring the fact that Palestinians live there, and sometimes have been for decades.

Developments in recent years point to a trend of positive change in the Civil Administration’s planning process in Area C. The change includes a willingness to accept objections from a professional planning entity, such as Bimkom, with respect to master plans drafted by the Civil Administration; to acknowledge the problematic nature of previous plans; to revoke plans already prepared and to order the drafting of revised plans in their stead. Other changes have been assigning the actual planning to Palestinians and maintaining contact with the PA about planning for villages in Area C. Nevertheless, as not even one Civil Administration master plan has gone into effect since 2008, it is not yet possible to determine whether this is a substantive change.