Tuesday, August 22, 2017

(Ilana Messika/TPS) In a move intended to build confidence with Palestinians ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and against the backdrop of U.S. efforts to advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the security cabinet approved an economic benefits package for Palestinians on Sunday evening.

The relief measures include the extension the hours of operation of the Allenby border crossing, the expansion of the Sha’ar Ephraim crossing (Tulkarm), the examination of the possibility of connecting the Jezreel Valley railway and Jenin, and the establishment of industrial zones for Palestinians in Jamala and Tarqumiyah, near Hebron.

In addition, the security cabinet decided to establish a committee for a period of three years to promote the regulation of buildings and outposts in Judea and Samaria. The team will include members of the Prime Minister’s Office, Defense Ministry and the Civil Administration.

One of the most controversial measures allows for Palestinian construction on lands adjacent to Palestinian cities in Area C on approximately 17,000 dunams of land, though Israel will remain the authority that decides how the land will be used (whether for agricultural, residential or industrial purposes).

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said that Israel wishes to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians in the area and to take steps to help them develop economically, as long as “ideological lines” are not crossed.

This measure, proposed during the Obama administration, but ultimately rejected by Prime Minister Netanyahu, caused a debate between the Jewish Home ministers and other members of the security cabinet due to the possibility that the Palestinians could use these economic measures for political ends. Although the Jewish Home Party has been a proponent of economic development for the Palestinians within the context of a one-state solution, it considered this package to be one that contains too many political and territorial concessions.

Area C covers approximately 60 percent of the West Bank. Israel has retained civil and military control of the region, including land allocation, planning and construction, and infrastructure.  Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev had requested to conduct a new demographics survey of Area C prior to the security cabinet’s approval of the measure in order to “recognize the reality on the ground” and to promote Jewish construction as well.

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