Israel's Security Cabinet voted Wednesday to freeze a plan to build thousands of new housing units in the Palestinian city of Qalqilya.
In ten days, the Cabinet is expected to discuss the government's policy on construction enforcement and building plans in Area C of the West Bank, where Qalqilya is located. Until then, the National Security Council and the Defense Ministry will further brief ministers on the details of the plan, but it will not be advanced.
The Security Cabinet also instructed Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to formulate a position on the division of sovereignty in the West Bank between the Israeli government and the IDF.
The plan, which raised the ire of right-wing ministers several weeks ago, includes the approval of 5,100 housing units in Area C on the east and north of the city. It is intended to provide a solution to the population growth forecast for 2035 from the current 51,000 to 80,000 people. It also includes a new zoo, sports fields, a commercial area, public structures and upscale neighborhoods for residence.
The political uproar over the plan broke out after it was approved in a Cabinet meeting in October 2016 when several Likud ministers were absent.
Initially, claims were made the plan includes the approval of 14,000 housing units, but the full plan shows the allocated area could accommodate only about 6,000 units, a thousands of which have already been built.
The head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, welcomed the Cabinet's decision to freeze the plan. "This is the first step in the right direction," he said. "I call on the prime minister to complete this move and remove this absurd plan—which endangers the Sharon and Samaria regions—from the agenda and dedicate more time to advancing construction plans for the citizens of the State of Israel in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and all over the country."
Hours before the decision to freeze the plan, senior IDF officers told Ynet the plan had received all the necessary permits and was approved by the government a year ago.
"We aren't doing anyone a favor," said one of the officer, who emphasized the expansion plan for Qalqiliya was formulated by the Central Command as a security tool to achieve quiet and to halt the wave of terror attacks that began a year ago.
"This isn't a con, but rather an initiative by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman as part of his 'sticks and carrots' plan, the principles of which were already part of the operational approach, according to which we've been operating since the beginning of the wave of terrorism in October 2015.
"According to this approach, we will take security measures against areas and villages from which terror emanates, such as demolitions, arrests, and weapons searches. On the other hand, quiet places will receive benefits, such as more work permits," said the officer.
The officers stressed that this will "create hope and provide the majority of the Palestinian population the option not to engage in terror. Qalqilya has been the quietest city in the West Bank for the last two years, with the least amount of hostile terror activity."