Urban Plans Entrench Israel in West Bank
As Jewish settlements sprawl, Arab villages face new constraints on home building
NAHHALIN, OCCUPIED WEST BANK
ISRAEL is quietly launching an effort that could extend its direct control over major portions of the occupied West Bank. Israeli sources say that land-use plans announced by the government last month for three Arab villages will ensure orderly growth and prevent urban sprawl.Skip to next paragraph
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But Palestinians and Western analysts describe the three plans, plus seven more which are said to be imminent, as an effort to further entrench Israel in the West Bank by restricting the growth of Arab towns and villages and possibly opening the door to expanded Jewish settlement.
Since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967, between 40 and 60 percent of total West Bank land has been seized for settlements, roads, and military installations. If new town plans are imposed broadly, much land remaining in Arab hands could be placed off limits to construction.
One diplomatic source describes the plans as the beginning of a major effort by Israel to create ``facts on the ground'' in anticipation of eventual Middle East peace negotiations.
``It's not an accident that it's happening at this time,'' the source says. ``The Israelis can see the writing on the wall. Talks are imminent so they want to strengthen their hand as much as possible.''
Israel is under international pressure to relinquish occupied territories in return for a comprehensive Mideast peace.
Palestinians say the new plans are also calculated to stunt West Bank development and, by creating conditions of overcrowding and high unemployment, to force emigration from the West Bank.
``They want to make life as miserable as possible,'' says one leading Palestinian urban planning expert, who speaks of a ``slow motion'' Israeli policy of pressuring Palestinians to quit the West Bank. ``If the only choice is to live in a ghetto, the new generation will think of emigrating.''
``A denial of permits [to build houses outside the new limits] on the basis of this plan is a denial of rights,'' adds the planner.
The three villages - Nahhalin, near Bethlehem, and Shibtin and Hizma, near Ramallah - have one month to appeal the plans, potentially the first of dozens as Israel attempts to revive a 1982 master plan prepared for most of the villages in the West Bank.
Despite several requests, officials of the Israeli civil administration, the agency that administers the West Bank and which drafted the new town plans, declined to be interviewed on the subject.
The effects of Israel's new urban planning policy are vividly illustrated in the hillside town of Nahhalin, long a bastion of opposition to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the scene last April of one of the most violent episodes of the intifadah (uprising).
For decades this village of 3,000 has sprawled lazily along the picturesque slopes southwest of Bethlehem. Today four Jewish settlements, two just being built, look down from surrounding hilltops.
Under the plan announced last month, residents of Nahhalin will be forced to limit new construction to the 160 of the village's 1,500 acres where building is already concentrated.
Residents worry that 13 buildings left outside the new housing limit may be subject to demolition by Israeli authorities. During 1988, nearly 250 dwellings in the West Bank were demolished on the grounds that they had no building permits - more than the number leveled for security reasons related to the intifadah.
Beyond that is the fear that the new town plan may be just the latest of several steps that could strangle the village and cut it off from its agricultural livelihood.