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Court case highlights Israel’s ‘globally unique’ discriminatory land regime

Israel’s apartheid policies are under the spotlight again, with a petition before the country’s High Court demanding that planning rights be returned to Palestinian villages in the West Bank. At stake is a discriminatory system described just last week by Amnesty International as “unique globally.”

On Sunday, the second hearing took place for a petition by joint appellants Diraat-Rafiah municipality, and Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs. The case was first submitted in April 2011, and demands the reinstatement of local planning committees in Area C of the West Bank.

In short, Palestinians are seeking to make their own decisions regarding the planning of their own communities – rather than the Israeli authorities who systematically privilege Jewish settlements at the expense of the occupied population.

At the first High Court hearing, the state was asked to come up with suggestions for including Palestinians in the planning process, but the subsequent proposal of a non-binding ‘consultation’ was barely any change from the status quo. Palestinians can already submit planning proposals – the problem is that they are systematically rejected.

The situation facing Palestinians in so-called ‘Area C’, which constitutes almost two-thirds of the West Bank, is grim. Last year alone, according to the UN, Israeli forces demolished 590 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,177 people – “the highest level of displacement in the West Bank” since monitoring began in 2008.

A previous UN study showed how, over a seven year period, Israel denied 94% of Palestinian building permit requests in Area C. Official Israeli data, meanwhile, revealed that out of 1,426 planning applications submitted by Palestinians living in Area C between 2007 and 2010, just 106 were approved with only 64 permits eventually granted – 4.5% of the total.

Just 1% of Area C is currently designated for the development of Palestinian villages, compared to 27% for illegal Israeli settlements. In 1971, an Israeli military order “eliminated the local Palestinian planning committees” while establishing “similar committees for…Jewish settlements.”

Ahead of the most recent High Court hearing, Amnesty International published a new document on how “Israeli authorities have denied Palestinians meaningful participation in planning processes for decades, and made it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits to build legally.”

Amnesty flagged up three Israeli practices warranting particular censure: the demolition of Palestinian homes, prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention unless “militarily necessary”; and the policy of settling Israeli civilians in settlements in addition to “the forced transfer” of Palestinians. All three policies, Amnesty states, are war crimes under Article 8 of the Rome Statute.

According to Amnesty, the “formal denial of participation in planning for an entire population, coupled with the establishment of a parallel planning system for Israeli settlements that explicitly discriminates in favour of another population whose very presence living in the territory in question violates international law, is unique globally.”

On Sunday, the state argued that planning for Palestinian communities in Area C is a ‘political’ issue to be resolved as part of the ‘peace process’. An attorney for the appellants pointed out the discriminatory double standard: the future of illegal settlements is considered a matter for future negotiation, yet they have the local planning committees denied to Palestinians. In addition, and crucially, “human rights cannot be made dependant on the political process.”

The state was given ten days to reply, at which point the judges will decide how to proceed. Palestinians are understandably sceptical, and the question is clear: will Israel’s High Court reject an explicitly discriminatory planning system or rubber-stamp apartheid?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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