By Amir Paz-Fuchs
Never have so many people expressed such concern for the kindergartens and the extra floor space of so few. At least that's the impression one gleans from listening to Israeli officials discussing the dire and critical need to allow for "natural growth" among the West Bank settler population. In fact, Israeli officials have been privately stating that the American demand to halt all settlement construction amounts to a decree to cease even the most basic growth of families - birth control through planning requirements, if you will.
Strong words. Sadly, they amount to no more than a smoke screen, designed to allow Israel to continue expansionist policies uninhibited, to the detriment of Palestinians and Palestinian villages in the West Bank.
Recent research by the Israeli human-rights organization Bimkom shows that Israel continues to designate significant land and planning resources for settlement development, far exceeding any "natural growth" projections. To date, dozens of detailed plans have been submitted to planning authorities, which, if approved, would allow for the building of 40,000 additional units, sufficient to house some 240,000 new settlers.
Moreover, the natural growth argument suggests that settlements should be permitted to expand in a manner that is both geographically sound and
adheres to accepted principles of spatial planning. This is not the case in the West Bank. Newly revealed documents show that Israel is building what can only be described as new settlements, while presenting them as expansions of existing ones. This practice is followed even in those cases
when the old and new communities are separated by a significant distance, or several hills, and are not joined by connecting roads.
The recent approval of a planning scheme for Sansana, putatively a neighborhood of Eshkolot, near Hebron, is a case in point. Sansana and
Eshkolot are three kilometers apart; there is no territorial contiguity between them; and the existence of both settlements denies the residents of the Palestinian village of Ramadin access to their lands, where they herd sheep and grow wheat. Similarly, the defense minister recently authorized
the construction of an additional 300 units in the "neighborhood" of Water Reservoir Hill, near Ramallah, retroactively legalizing the existing 60
units, and permitting the construction of an additional 240, thus catering to the "natural growth" needs of Talmon's 200 settler families for at least
two generations. It should be noted that the plan foresees that the units be built in part on Palestinian private land and will prevent the residents
of the neighboring Palestinian village access to their land.
Spokespeople for the settler movement say the settlements' built-up area amounts to only 1.5 percent of the West Bank, and that their sole wish is
to expand the area within the settlement's jurisdiction. That would be "only natural," of course. What they fail to mention is that there is
almost complete overlap between the 30 percent of the West Bank declared state land and the settlements' jurisdictional area. In other words,
accepting the claim that settlements should be permitted to continue to expand within their jurisdiction would result in a 20-fold expansion of the
current built-up area.
In its current approach, Israel is not only violating international law and shirking its obligations to the U.S. administration under the road map. One
cannot fully understand the "natural growth" of settlements without realizing the impact it has on the Palestinian villages that are its
victims. To allow for such expansion, Israel forcefully and effectively limits Palestinian development in the West Bank. This is achieved by
treating the whole of Area C - the 60 percent of the West Bank defined by the Oslo Accords as coming under full Israeli jurisdiction - as reserved
for Israeli purposes exclusively. In particular, Israel employs several complementary policies in Area C.
First, in addition to the 30 percent of the West Bank Israel has defined as "state land," it has declared an additional 10 percent "survey lands," on
which Palestinian development is prohibited.
Second, even in areas under partial Palestinian control, Israel severely restricts Palestinian construction and engages in aggressive demolition of
houses. Over the past few years, the Civil Administration has, on a monthly average, issued 60 demolition orders, demolished 20 structures, and has
granted one permit for construction. And because the Civil Administration refuses to prepare master plans that meet the needs of the population,
Palestinians have no choice but to meet their "natural growth" by engaging in illegal construction.
Third, Israel continues to build roads that allow limited or no Palestinian use. The separation barrier and other security measures implemented at the behest of the settler population have the additional effect of severely restricting Palestinians' access to their lands.
Israel would be wise not to continue to obfuscate the reality that is becoming increasingly clear with every passing day. If it continues its
current practices and rhetoric, it will suffer the fate of double punishment familiar to quite a few politicians: first for its acts, and
then again for deceit.
Dr. Amir Paz-Fuchs is a board member of Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights, and teaches law at the Ono Academic College and at Tel Aviv
East Jerusalem family forced to demolish part of own home, center expert cites abuse of permit system
From the roof of his family's home in East Jerusalem within the walls of the Old City, Raed Sa'id points to the golden Dome of The Rock, which is glowing in the late-afternoon sun.
"This view is what I will miss most," he said. Soon after, his brothers smashed the walls and ceiling of the second floor of their home to pieces.
Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem face many bureaucratic challenges to obtain building permits and often must choose between building illegally or moving out of the city. Around1900 Palestinian houses were demolished from 2000-2007 for lack of a building permit, according to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD).
Amir Paz-Fuchs of the Israeli non-profit Bimkom estimated that on average for each month during the past three years, Israel's Civil Administration has given an average of 60 demolition orders, demolished 20 structures, and granted just one building permit.
The Sa'id family of 13 children and grandchildren built a second floor room onto their existing single floor structure to accommodate the growing family of one of the brothers. Since they didn't have a permit, Israeli authorities gave them a choice – pay a large fine and the Israelis would demolish the area or pay a smaller fine and demolish it themselves.
"Home demolitions are a part of Israel's long-standing depopulation of East Jerusalem through the abuse of the permit system," said Karin Ryan, director of the Carter Center's Human Rights Program. "Palestinians face many obstacles such as excessive fee for building permit application, the rezoning of land to be in areas not designated for development, and disproportionate fines for those who do build illegally. The Carter Center promotes a two-state solution, and every plan for peace involves East Jerusalem remaining in the hands of the Arab community."
Israelis face the same application procedures for building permits as Palestinians in East Jerusalem, yet since 1967 Israel has sponsored the construction of nearly 50,000 units for Israelis only, while fewer than 600 government-sponsored housing units have been built in the Palestinian sector, with the most recent being 30 years old, according to the Israeli non-profit Ir Amim.
Meanwhile, Israel is resisting pressure from the United States to freeze Jewish settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. They say they must build to allow for "natural growth."
"But since the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem have increased by more than 170,000, which indicates much more than just a natural increase in families already living there," said Ryan.
On June 14, Jamal Sa'id, Raed's father, went to court to seek a reprieve for completing the demolition at his family's home. They had run into difficulties when destroying the ceiling and weren't sure how to bring it down without damaging the rest of the house.
He was granted three additional days to destroy the structure and fined an additional 10,000 shekels (around USD$2600) for not completing the demolition within 24 hours of the deadline.
President Carter has been committed to peace in the Middle East since his White House administration. In the decades following, President Carter and The Carter Center have continued to promote stability and justice in the region. The Carter Center is a strong supporter of the Geneva Initiative, a comprehensive joint effort between influential Palestinians and Israelis that promotes a two-state peace plan. The Carter Center has monitored Palestinian elections in 1996, 2005, and 2006, and has an office in Ramallah and Gaza to promote human rights, electoral reform, and conflict resolution.