Israeli officials told the Biden administration that plans for a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem will not be approved for another year, after U.S. officials expressed their concern over a municipal board decision to greenlight the construction in Atarot.
On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Municipality's planning committee approved the construction of a new neighborhood beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders, which, if established, would be the first large Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem since Har Homa in the 1990s.
This area of the abandoned Atarot airport, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah, was originally intended to be transferred to the Palestinians as was agreed in previous peace talks, and rests on the grounds of a defunct regional airport in the northern part of Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in June 1967.
A U.S. administration official turned to Israel to ask why the political leadership isn't blocking the controversial plans, arguing previous governments headed over the past decade by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have moved to block such plans.
Israeli officials who spoke to their American counterparts since Wednesday's decision explained that the municipal committee is independent from the government. They also added that the plans will not be advanced at the upcoming district planning committee, set for early December.
Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said the district planning committee meeting has been cancelled, meaning “the plan is off the table for now.”
Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said she was not aware of any move to shelve the project.
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The plan for the neighborhood includes 9,000 residential units in an area of 1,243 dunams. It is thought that the new neighborhood will be intended for use by the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem.
The plan was initiated by the Housing Ministry and drawn up by architect Yuval Kadmon. It must now pass through a number of additional steps before final approval.
The Palestinian Authority and the international community are expected to protest against the plan.
In recent months, the government has been promoting a number of controversial construction plans that stalled under the previous government. For example, infrastructure work has begun in Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem, and plans for a new settlement in Area E1.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.