The Palestinian Authority announced on Sunday the boycott of a high-level meeting with Israel in protest against Jerusalem’s move to fast-track the approval process for construction in Judea and Samaria.
“After the decision of the Israeli government to accelerate the stages of settlement growth in the West Bank, and to authorize its minister of finance, [Betzalel] Smotrich, to ratify this, we decided to boycott the meeting of the Joint Economic Committee between the two parties, which was scheduled to be held [Monday],” said top P.A. official Hussein al-Sheikh.
“The Palestinian leadership will study a number of other measures and decisions for implementation related to the relationship with Israel,” he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced during Sunday’s Cabinet meeting a decision to make it easier to obtain permits to build inside Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
At the same time, it was announced that the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee is set to meet on June 26, to approve 4,560 new housing units in communities throughout the region.
The Cabinet also transferred most of the authority to approve such construction to Smotrich, who also serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry and thus plays an important role in overseeing civilian life in Judea and Samaria via the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration.
Sunday’s Cabinet resolution came as an amendment to a 1996 government decision requiring the defense minister to approve intermediate steps of the process of planning and construction. Now, only initial approval for projects will be required, and there is no clear mechanism in place for senior Israeli officials to put the brakes on an initiative.
In response, a spokesman for P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas told the Voice of Palestine radio station that, “Israel is playing with fire both on the issue of Jerusalem and on the issue of the settlements.”
“These are Palestinian, Arab and international red lines,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh.
U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington was “deeply troubled” by Israel’s intention to build more than 4,000 “settlement units in the West Bank.”
“We are similarly concerned by reports of changes to Israel’s system of settlement administration that expedite the planning and approvals of settlements,” he continued.
IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi, founder of the Israel Defense and Security Forum (IDSF), told JNS that he welcomed Jerusalem’s decision to reduce red tape.
“There is no substitute for an Israeli presence in the mountains overlooking Israel’s major population centers, while at the same time the IDF has the operational ability to combat terror within Area A [where the Palestinian Authority’s cities are located] thanks to a strong Jewish presence throughout Judea and Samaria,” said Avivi.