Five Big EU Countries Press Israel to Delay Settlement Plans

Israel's Civil Administration to go ahead with only 381 of intended 1,800 homes in West Bank settlements; Israeli officials: Technical problems, not EU pressure, led us to delay plans.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Construction in West Bank settlement Modi'in Illit, March 2011.
Construction in West Bank settlement Modi'in Illit, March 2011.Credit: AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Following pressure by Western European diplomats, the Civil Administration decided on Wednesday to delay the recently announced plans to move forward on construction of 1,800 settlement homes.

The only plans approved by the Civil Administration's High Planning Council concerned 381 housing units in Givat Ze'ev. Those involving construction in Ariel, Har Bracha, Alfei Menashe, Oranit and other settlements were put off, along with plans in the settlement outpost Al-Matan.

Planning council chairman Daniel Halimi said he received instructions for the delays shortly before the meeting, and a source who attended the session said, "Apparently the decision came from high up."

On Tuesday, British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould and French Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave told National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen that their countries wanted Israel to hold off on advancing plans for the 1,800 settlement homes, which had been frozen for many months.

Gould and Maisonnave told Cohen that Germany, Italy and Spain would be conveying the same message, which the Italian and Spanish ambassadors did to the Foreign Ministry later that day, while German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis weighed in with Cohen early on Wednesday.

A senior European diplomat told Haaretz that the five ambassadors decided on the move after discussing their reaction to the Netanyahu government's decision regarding the 1,800 homes, which was taken last week in response to the formation of the Fatah-Hamas unity government. In addition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave Housing Minister Uri Ariel the green light to publish tenders for 1,500 new settlement homes.

Israeli officials: EU pressure not factor in change of plans

Senior Israeli officials involved in coordinating activities in the settlements played down the pressure, however, saying Thursday that only some of the plans up for discussion were postponed – due to technical reasons, they added, and not at the request of the European ambassadors.

"Most of the deliberations set for today's original agenda were discussed, except for a plan that was removed at the request of the council and an additional plan that was postponed because of a publishing process that was not implemented as asked," said the officials.

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