Ministers to Reopen Discussion on Expansion of Palestinian Town

Yerushalayim (Andrew Friedman/TPS) – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the cabinet would revisit a plan to issue 14,000 housing permits for the Palestinian city of Qalqilya, located on the western edge of Shomron, a five-minute drive from the Israeli city of Kfar Saba. It also abuts Highway 6, a north-south thoroughfare that bisects central Israel.

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 cities in Yehudah and Shomron, is under Palestinian civilian and security control and Israeli Jews are forbidden from entering the area.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home 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 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 Palestinians 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 Yehudah and Shomron remains severely limited.

The issue began last Wednesday when spokespeople for Prime Minister Netanyahu published the construction plan as a gesture to US President Donald Trump, who has said that Israeli communities in Yehudah and Shomron 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 Yehudah and Shomron after eight years of almost zero building during the Obama administration. More recently, settlement leaders such as Shomron Regional Council Head Yossi Dagan and Gush Etzion Council head Shlomo Ne’eman expressed frustration last week with the 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 Yerushalayim.

 

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