After Furor, Gov’t to Reconsider Qalqilya Building Plan

YERUSHALAYIM -
Qalqilya. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The Cabinet will again open up discussions on its plan to allow the construction of 14,000 new homes in the Arab city of Qalqilya, after right-wing MKs and ministers both outside and inside the Likud protested loudly against the plan. According to sources quoted by Channel Two Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was “not aware of the extent of the project,” and told the Cabinet at its Sunday meeting that the plan was up for discussion again.

Qalqilya is an Arab city bordering Kfar Sava with a population of over 50,000, located in Area A, under full Palestinian Authority control. In order for the plan to be enacted, the land area of Qalqilya – currently enclosed within a security border fence – would need to be expanded. That would likely come at the expense of land belonging to nearby Israeli towns, including Alfei Menashe and especially Tzofim, which is due east of Qalqilya. Under the plan, the new border fence with Qalqilya will abut Tzofim, a situation residents called “extremely dangerous. They cannot put us right next to a big city completely run by the Palestinians where even the IDF is not allowed to patrol,” the report quoted residents as saying.

Likud MKs on Thursday joined the Jewish Home MKs and leaders of Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron in slamming the plan. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said that the “Palestinian Authority continues to incite violence and terror against Israelis, and to violate all its obligations to Israel. As such, this decision must be reconsidered.” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzippy Hotovely said that “it does not make sense that the Arabs of Qalqilya will have more rights than Jews. Adding thousands of homes to Qalqilya without a similar number for Jewish communities is harmful to Jewish settlement, as well as unfair. The government must expand construction in Jewish towns after the long building freeze. The number of homes that have been approved so far is not sufficient.”

The details of the plan were revealed on Channel Two on Wednesday night, with a report describing a plan proposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to allow for the construction of as many as 14,000 homes in Qalqilya. Part of Liberman’s “carrot and stick” policy, in which Palestinians are rewarded for keeping the peace, the plan will requiring doubling the municipal boundaries of Qalqilya – which Liberman intends to do by annexing land in Area C, under Israeli civilian and military control, to Qalqilya, which is part of PA-controlled Area A.

Among its chief critics were Jewish Home party leaders Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who said that “we have been and are opposed to the ‘carrot and stick’ policy, which we see as rewarding terror, and a way for Palestinians to take over Area C. What is even worse is the large number of homes authorized for Qalqilya, versus the small number authorized for housing in Jewish towns. Israel must advance the interests of Israelis in Yehudah and Shomron, not those of the Palestinians.” Liberman, for his part, dismissed the criticism, saying that the details of the plan were known to the Cabinet for at least six months. The current government, Liberman said, “is the best one ever for settlement. Just during the first half of this year we authorized construction of thousands of homes. We have a balanced policy, taking into consideration both the needs of communities in Yehudah and Shomron, and Israel’s national and international political interests.”

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office dismissed complaints by the Jewish Home ministers. “The plan was presented to and approved by the Cabinet last year, and since then we have approved construction of over 10,000 homes in Jewish towns in Yehudah and Shomron. The issues raised by critics are incorrect, and even absurd,” the statement said. However, according to Channel Two, Likud ministers Sunday said that PM Netanyahu had not been aware of the extent of the plan. “Someone was trying to pull the wool over his eyes,” the ministers were quoted as saying. “Netanyahu and the Cabinet never agreed to this, and now we are going to have to discuss it again.”

Meanwhile, the Regavim organization, a legal group which represents the interests of Jewish towns in Yehudah and Shomron, said that it would file a lawsuit on behalf of Tzofim seeking an injunction against execution of the plan. “This plan will irrevocably harm residents of Tzofim, which will for all practical purposes be surrounded by the Palestinian city. This is a planning nightmare. Instead of urging the PA to build apartment towers to alleviate Qalqilya’s housing shortage, according to current development plans for the city, the government is allowing the construction of smaller buildings which require more territory. The approach is illogical.” In addition, the group said, the PA will have full control of roads in the area, including roads that lead to Tzofim, creating a serious security danger.