FP Explainer

How Does Israel Approve New Settlement Building?

It depends.

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

The Israeli government announced Monday that it had authorized new construction in a West Bank settlement — 112 apartments in the mostly Orthodox town of Beitar Illit, six miles outside Jerusalem; on Tuesday, it announced the construction of more than 1,000 new apartments in East Jerusalem. The news came despite the Israeli government agreeing to halt new construction in the territory outside of Jerusalem in November. But how do you go about getting new settlement construction approved, anyway?

It depends. Let’s define settlements as Israeli communities on land acquired by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, including East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank.

Within Jerusalem — whose city limits Israel designates as including West Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, and surrounding neighborhoods — to build or add to a residence, you need to go through the city’s planning process. In the West Bank outside Jerusalem, you need to be expanding an existing settlement and need to have already started the building process. (The Israeli government says the Beitar Illit apartments had been approved before November — therefore, the ban on new building did not apply.)

Say you want to build a block of residences in East Jerusalem. You need documents proving that you own or have rights to use the land in question, as well as construction plans that fall within detailed zoning, density, and historical regulations. With these in hand, you make an application to the Local Planning Committee, which is composed of 11 members of the City Council. The committee determines whether or not to approve your plan, with or without amendments, and legally cannot discriminate based on gender, creed, religion, or race. Citywide, the municipal committee in 2009 gave the thumbs-up to approximately 60 percent of applications and rejected around 40 percent.

The project then goes to the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee, which is part of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior and includes government officials and public advocates. This committee also makes a ruling on the project. Then, it posts the plans, and the public can raise objections for up to 60 days — before a final thumbs-up or thumbs-down. In the West Bank outside Jerusalem, the Ministry of Defense controls the entire building-permit process in Israeli-administered territory ("Area C"), about 72 percent of the West Bank’s area. Whether through the city or military process, getting a building approved tends to take months, if not years.

The government assesses application and building fees on a sliding scale, depending on the size of the project and the size of the lot. For the construction of an average-sized home, for instance, governmental costs total around $3,000, including fees for water and sewage hookup.

Critics contend that the process discriminates against Palestinians for numerous reasons — among them, the fact that Palestinians opt out of Jerusalem’s municipal elections (and therefore aren’t represented on the Local Planning Committee), residency and citizenship requirements, and the fact that many Palestinian residential buildings were not permitted when Israel annexed the land. Plus, relatively few Palestinians, critics argue, can afford application and building fees; the average income for Palestinians in the West Bank is less than $3,000 a year, and one in five is unemployed.

Thanks to Stephan Miller in the office of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Daniel Seidemann of Ir Amim, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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