Netanyahu Orders Plans Be Advanced for 1,060 New East Jerusalem Housing Units

Order comes under pressure from settler movement and right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party; instruction is for planning only, not building; Palestinians: Housing plan is a 'dangerous step.'

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Construction at Har Homa in East Jerusalem.Credit: AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered to move ahead with plans for 1,060 new housing units in Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line.

His instruction came on Monday under pressure from the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria and the Habayit Hayehudi party, which threatened to destabilize the coalition.

Sources at the Prime Minister's Office said plans would be advanced for 660 housing units in Ramat Shlomo and 400 in Har Homa, both of which are Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

According to the sources, Netanyahu also ordered the advancement of infrastructure projects in West Bank settlements that are "necessary from a security and safety perspective." The leading such project is the paving of 12 new roads.

"The infrastructure development will serve both Israelis and Palestinians," said sources at the Prime Minister's Office.

Netanyahu's orders were only to plan the housing units in East Jerusalem, and not to actually build them.

An analysis of the numbers submitted in Prime Minister's Office announcement suggest that Netanyahu was referring to various plans put on hold that are being reopened for debate.

Plan 11094 calls for building 660 housing units in the area between the Haredi neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo and the Arab neighborhood of Shoafat. The plan was last discussed in 2006 and has been on hold ever since. The Har Homa plan looks like a plan known as "West Har Homa," which includes 398 housing units and has not been discussed for years. Planners even decided in January to shelve it.

In addition, at this stage, Netanyahu has not met the demands of the council and Habayit Hayehudi to publish tenders for the immediate construction of 2,000 new housing units in West Bank settlements.

In response to Netanyahu's decision to advance the housing plans, Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said, "Israel's escalation in occupied Jerusalem and in the holy places, as well as the dangerous daily violations, and the new announcement about building in Jerusalem constitute dangerous steps that oblige condemnation." He said Israel's aggressiveness is accelerating the PA's decision to carry out its decision to turn to international organizations and the UN Security Council in the very near future.

"Israel bears responsibility for this dangerous escalation," said Abu Rudeinah, who added that the PA leadership is demanding of the U.S. government to immediately do something to put an end to Israel's moves and halt a further deterioration of the situation "because the situation in the whole region is headed toward a true historic storm and earthquake that will ruthlessly hurt everybody."

Abu Rudeinah was quoted by the Wafa Palestinian News and Info Agency.

On Sunday, Channel 2 reported that the council is negotiating the construction of 2,000 homes, mostly in the settlement blocs, with the Prime Minister's Office, but that senior officials in Habayit Hayehudi and the council noted that, so far, Netanyahu hasn't accepted this demand. They estimate, the report said, the he would try to appease the settlers with the infrastructure plans as a temporary substitute for their housing demands.

In attempt to relieve the pressure exerted by senior members of the Habayit Hayehudi party and the settlement movement, Netanyahu will hold a meeting on Wednesday to discuss infrastructure development in the West Bank, where the paving of new roads and several other small projects will most likely be approved.

Senior officials in Habayit Hayehudi and in the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria told Haaretz that at this stage Netanyahu has not yet agreed to their demand to "unfreeze" construction in the settlements.

The discussion will be held in the wake of a meeting Netanyahu held last week with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing Minister Uri Ariel. In the course of that meeting, Haaretz revealed, the two Habayit Hayehudi leaders threatened to undermine the government coalition unless Israel lifts the "quiet freeze" on building and planning processes in the settlements.

In addition to Bennett and Ariel, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz will also take part in Wednesday's meeting. According to the meeting's agenda, first revealed by Channel 2 on Sunday, Netanyahu and the ministers will discuss the possibility of approving the paving of 12 new roads in the West Bank, water infrastructure in the settlements, building student villages, parks, and a promenade in Gush Etzion to memorialize the three teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered this summer.

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