Thursday, March 11, 2010

Your Next Diploma in Foreign Affairs: Israeli Settlement Approval

In yet another essay on the minutia of Israeli life examined through a critical foreign microscope, you're about to learn the intricate workings of a subset of bureaucracy in a speck of a country half a world away; information whose equivalent in your own locality you've probably never bothered to inquire about, much less to master. Without further delay (in making you an expert on issues vital to global security, no less): How does Israel approve new settlement construction in Yesha and Jerusalem? Foreign Policy (not to be confused with the venerable Foreign Affairs) takes a break from solving world hunger and stopping genocide in Darfur to explain:
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 article goes on to submit statements from critics, without evaluating their context or validity.
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.
Where does one begin? First, let's keep in mind that the same exact laws that apply to Jews in Jerusalem, also apply to Arabs. Nothing is stopping Israeli Arabs from building in Jerusalem (or anywhere else in Israel) - they simply have to undergo the same approval process as all other residents. Yes, there are real roadblocks to Israeli Arab building - such as lack of city zoning plans for many villages, and other forms of civil neglect and infrastructure underinvestment - but these are not covered by this article. Israel is not to blame for Jerusalem's Arabs abstaining from voting in municipal elections; maybe instead of whining about housing discrimination they should, you know, vote. "Residency and citizenship requirements" is vague enough to mean anything and nothing. Completely ignored by this article  is the simple fact that thousands of Arab homes have gone up, without Israeli approval, proper zoning or infrastructure planning (meaning roads, sewage, etc.), both in Jerusalem and Yesha. As for building fees, plenty of Israelis are also below the poverty line and can't afford to build their own homes, so they rent.

Congratulations! You now know more about Israel's building approval process than that in your own city, state and country. Now you can talk like a real Israeli expert in the company of other Israeli experts, displaying your depth of understanding and diligently linking back to this Foreign Affairs article as proof of your educated sophistication on issues affecting global security.

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