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A Brief Dissection of Land Policies in Israel

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, supported by the state of Israel, have been a long contested issue by both Palestinians and the international community (Levingston, 2020). Since the announcement of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s annexation plan of the West Bank, part of the “peace plan” proposed by the Trump administration, the world has been keeping a closer eye on Israel. The proposed plan outlines Netanyahu’s intent to officially annex over 30% of the occupied West Bank territory, yet it also includes room for negotiations with Palestinian leadership (Holmes, 2020). Such promises of negotiations ring hollow in light of the current Israeli government policies that actively threaten and diminish the autonomy and integrity of Palestinian communities. 

A recent report published by the Human Rights Watch on May 12 details how the Israeli government uses discriminatory land policies to further restrict growth of Palestinian communities within Israel itself (Human Rights Watch, 2020). According to this report, Israel’s planning policies have confined Palestinians to dense and overcrowded centers, with no room to grow or expand. The report cites evidence from a 2003 Israeli government-commissioned report which concluded that Palestinian towns were surrounded by “land designated for purposes such as security zones, Jewish regional councils, national parks and nature reserves or highways, which prevent or impede the possibility of their expansion in the future.Such selective land planning policies have resulted in severe housing shortages for residents of Palestinian communities. Moreover, the recent amendment of Israel’s Planning and Building Law increases the authority of the Israeli government to prosecute building offenses. According the OCHA, a United Nations body, Israel demolished 621 Palestinian residential structures in West Bank alone (Amnesty International, 2019). Authorities cited the lack of Israeli-issued permits for many of these buildings as reasonable cause for demolition, despite the fact that such permits are near impossible for Palestinians to obtain (Amnesty International, 2019).

In response to the questions and findings of activist groups and international institutions, the Israeli Planning Administration (IPA) denied claims of boxing in Palestinian communities and in defense, cited plans that granted the approval of 160,000 housing units within 119 Palestinian localities between 2012 and 2019 (Human Rights Watch, 2020). The IPA also asserted that land planning within Arab communities posed great challenges such as “short supply of land for public use… [and] many unutilized agricultural enclaves” (Human Rights Watch, 2020). The Israeli government controls 93% of land in the state and manages state lands through the Israel Land Authority (ILA). However, many members of the ILA governing body are from the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which directly owns 13% of Israel’s land. As a result, the ILA is mandated under the Israel Land Administration Law to use the JNF owned land for the explicit purpose of settling Jews only (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Jewish settlements and communities are prioritized for land allocation and growth under Israeli law, so the actions of the land planning authorities follow precedent and requirements set by the governing body. What occurs as a result is that of the hundreds of thousands acres of land in the West Bank marked out for public use, almost 97% of this land is allocated for Jewish Israeli land use (Kershner, 2019).  

Palestinian communities are the ones who bear the cost and suffer this reality. With poor living conditions and poverty arising from land policies that suffocate growth within Palestinian towns, tensions and dissatisfaction with the Israeli authorities rise among residents. Nonetheless, both Palestinian and Jewish communities are victims of the violence that arises out of such tensions. Annexation plans and land negotiations are likely to be postponed well past Netayahu’s previously self-imposed annexation date of July 1, but Palestinian communities are being suffocated regardless of future settlement plans (Times of Israel, 2020). In the eyes of Mohammad Yehya Ayer, a farmer from the Palestinian village of Irtas, statements by Netanyahu and plans for annexation are redundant; “These areas are already [as good as] annexed... It's all in their hands" (Bateman, 2020). In order for there to be significant progress towards peace and stability, the Israeli administration should address the disparities in land policies and implement plans that foster meaningful growth for Palestinian communities. 


Citations: Chicago Author-Date Format

Amnesty International. 2019. “Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories 2019.” Amnesty International, 2019. 

Bateman, Tom. 2020. “Israel annexation: New border plans leave Palestinians in despair.” BBC News, June 25, 2020.

Holmes, Oliver. 2020. “Israeli settlers speak out against US-backed annexation plan.” Guardian, June 4, 2020.

Human Rights Watch. 2020. “Israel: Discriminatory Land Policies Hem in Palestinians.” Human 

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2015. “Israeli Settlements and International Law.”

Kershner, Isabel. 2018. “In West Bank, 99.7% of Public Land Grants by Israel Go to Settlers.” New York Times, July 17, 2018.

Levingston, Ivan. 2020. “Israeli Settlements.” Bloomberg, January 30, 2020. 

Times of Israel, 2020. “Questions mount as Netanyahu’s self-imposed annexation date arrives.” Times of Israel, July 1, 2020.

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