Planning is being used in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of Palestine to deny Palestinian communites fair opportunities for development. The practices undertaken in the name of “good planning” actually amount to a denial of administrative justice. These are important findings from an International Advisory Board of experienced planners that it was my privilege to chair.
Area C of the West Bank was created by the Oslo Accords. It is the largely rural part of the West Bank where planning control still rests with Israel in a “temporay” arrangement dating back to the mid-1990s. However, an equitable planning service has not been delivered to the occupied people, in the way that it should have been under international law of occupation.
How to use planning to squeeze out local people
The planning system here was inherited from the Jordanians, whose system, in turn, was bequeathed by the British in the 1940s. Indeed the regional scale plans remain unchanged from the days of the British Mandate – pensioner-age plans that are based on a static and restrictive view of rural plannng as primarily a means to protect agricultural land. Similarly, the local level of plans are based on a 20 year time hoizon, and a detailed sub-division and zoning scheme for very small areas – typically villages of around 200 people – disconnected from each other and from nearby towns, and set within the extensive “no development” agricultural zone.
It is a system that can easily be used to deny development rights to local residents. That is exactly how it has been used under the occupation. Over 100 of these local plans have beeen prepared over the last 5 or 6 years. Only 3 have received approval from the Israeli Civil Administration, the de facto planning authority. Without that approval any development is unauthorised. While in the UK or other planning systems the response to unauthorised development is proportionate and negotiated, with demolition the last resort, here there are hundreds of demolitions each year. Ther is an acute threat, for example to the village of Susiya.
So if you are living in a village in Area C, and cannot extend your house or set up a small workshop or build a shed for your animals without fear of the construction being demolished at your own expense, then what options do you have? For many it will be “Hobson’s Choice” – they move into the nearest town. The Palestinians are being squeezed out of their villages.
In contrast, approval of plans for the development of Israeli settlements in adjacent sites proceeds apace. Unauthorised Israeli occupations of land are not subject to the same punitive enforcement regime. The Palestinian West Bank looks increasingly like an Isreali West Bank, a change delivered in the name of good planning to ensure that no development takes place that falls foul of minimum acceptable standards or threatens “the public good”.
Plans are sound say international experts
The International Advisory Board consisted of John Gladki (ex-Director of Planning for Toronto), Christine Platt (former President of Commonwealth Association of Planners and of the S.African Planning Institute), Martin Crookston (ex-Llewellyn-Davies and Partners and a board member of Architecture + Design Scotland) and Professor Michael Wegener (University of Dortmund and a highly respected expert on trasnport and accessibility, amongst other planning aspects), with myself as Chair.
We reviewed a sample of ten of the local plans and found them to be technically sound. We say that the Israelis should approve these and the other plans that are in their clogged-up pipeline. The Palestinian villagers have a right to have plans that enable them to develop: they have been denied these for far too long. Lack of approved plans has also held up the building of schools and other essential infrastructure which donor countries want to provide.
The response to our report will be a “litmus test” of the peace process in this long-contested region. Giving Palestinians the right to carry out development on land inside their villages in line with a prescribed and detailed land use plan does into threaten the security of Israel, but it would be a pragmatic step towards building trust. If the planning impasse can be broken it would become easier to tackle the more problematic issues that divide Israel and Palestine.
Planning as a means of enabling development
The report looks beyond the short-term and encourages the Palestinian Authority to take a proactive stance on planning. Instead of seeing planning only as a negative and oppressive force, which is how it is used in Area C, they need to grasp the opportunities that planning can offer.
A national spatial strategy could set out the key infrastructure networks required to grow the Palestinian economy – and avoid a pepper-potting implementation of development projects determined by the cash flow and budget deadlines of international donors. It should be the basis for a rural planning policy statement that looks at Area C in the round, not just as farmland with a sprinkling of villages.
City-region plans are also needed to enable the towns to grow and to connect to each other and to bring people to jobs. Planning has been used to disconnect places: that needs to be turned around.
New integrated and enabling approaches to local planning are needed. Plans should be produced for clusters of villages, not individual small plots. They should be consistent with the national strategy and the city region plans, and be approved by Local Councils (who used to have such a role but were abolished under a Military Order).
Last but not least, the demolitions should stop – and the donors should go ahead and build.
Will planning professions take a stand?
As planners we are used to defending our profession and being “proud of planning”. But we need to say “not in our name” when planning powers are being abused to deny people their human rights. Having studied the local situation in some detail, it is with sadness that my colleagues and I concluded this is what is happening in Area C.
Please read our report and make up your own mind. Then please act. You can draw our report to the attention of your colleagues and fellow-professionals. You can email your professional institutes or international planning organisations asking them to formally and explicitly give their support to our argument that planning should be an inclusive process that brings people together by enabling sustainable development. The professional bodies should not be silent when planning is militarised and used to deny opportunities to poor and marginalised communities. Our professional ethics and reputation are at stake.