Palestinian building permits 'political', admits Israel

Jerusalem (AFP) - Approval of building plans for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank is subject to political considerations, Israeli defence officials have acknowledged.

The admission came as a landmark court case seeks to challenge Israel's housing policy in Area C, which covers 60 percent of the West Bank but is under full Israeli civil and security control.

All building in Area C, whether by Palestinians or Jewish settlers, comes under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Civil Administration which has full control over all zoning and planning issues.

In practice, almost all Palestinian applications for a building permit are rejected, with the Civil Administration granting only a handful of permits.

In a written response to AFP regarding the legal case in which a Palestinian village and a coalition of NGOs are seeking to tackle Israel's policy of house demolitions, COGAT -- the defence ministry body to which the Civil Administration belongs -- admitted that planning issues required political approval.

"Any construction in Area C, both Palestinian and Israeli, requires the approval of the qualified authorities, according to the law practised in the region and in accordance with the Interim Agreement," it said, referring to the 1995 Oslo 2 agreement which divided the West Bank into areas A, B and C.

"The Civil Administration's planning committee examines and promotes construction plans equitably, dependant on the fact that these plans meet the relevant planning criteria and their promotion is approved by the political echelon," it said, without giving further detail.

Experts have long suspected that the Israel's housing policy in Area C is not just a civilian matter but has a political bias.

In 2014, the Civil Administration granted just one Palestinian building permit, according to Israeli planning NGO Bimkom.

In the same period, Israel carried 493 demolitions, displacing 969 people, UN figures show.

Unable to get "legal" permission, Palestinians are faced with either leaving or building illegally.

Israel regularly sends bulldozers to demolish hundreds of homes and other structures every year in a move sharply condemned by rights groups and the international community.

The legal case, which is currently before the Supreme Court, seeks to return local planning issues to the Palestinians by reviving local and district planning committees which existed before the 1967 Six-Day War and were abolished by military order in 1971.

Such a move would provide an answer for the problem of illegal building, and by extension impact on house demolitions, the petitioners say.