Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will move forward with a plan to build 3,500 settler homes in a particularly controversial area of the West Bank, he announced Tuesday, less than a week before the country's third election in a year.
The area known as E-1 is a 12-kilometer area west of the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, and previous plans to build homes for settlers there have prompted sharp international criticism. The plan raised particular anger because it would cut off the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part, making it more difficult to create a viable Palestinian state. Plans to build in E-1 have been drawn up since the 1990s, but more detailed plans have been frozen since 2005 for political and diplomatic reasons.
Before the 2013 election, the military's Civil Administration discussed plans for the area under Netanyahu's instructions, prompting the United Kingdom and France to mull summoning their ambassadors from Israel. The plan was frozen after the election.
Another attempt to move toward building in E-1 came in 2017, when a bill to apply Israeli law to Ma'aleh Adumim was put forward. The bill would have made E-1 part of Ma'aleh Adumim's municipality. Netanyahu worked to torpedo the bill before a ministerial panel voted on it, citing pressure from advisers to U.S. President Donald Trump. The vote on the bill was postponed in March of 2017 and has never occurred.
That same year, the Housing Ministry issued a tender to hire an architect to plan 1,200 homes in the area. Following Haaretz's report on the tender, Netanyahu's office said that "it is unnecessary to pay international prices for a planning move that has no real meaning."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said Netanyahu's moves are the result of "an American policy that is completely biased in favor of Israel and constitutes violation of international law and the crossing of red lines." He added that Netanyahu's decision is in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry meanwhile called for international intervention to prevent the continuation of settlement construction, particularly in E-1.
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David Alhayini, director of the settlements umbrella organization Yesha Council, welcomed Netanyhau's announcement as "enormous tidings for the Israeli settlement in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley."
Netanyahu's announcement on Tuesday came a day after the Israel Lands Authority issued tenders for the construction of 1,077 housing units in the Jewish neighborhood of Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem, a plan which had been frozen for years by the Prime Minister’s Office, initially because of pressure from the Obama administration.
The construction of the neighborhood was viewed as particularly problematic because it was thought that in a future plan to divide Jerusalem, Givat Hamatos would separate two Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem – Beit Safafa and Sharafat – from the contiguity of the Palestinian part of East Jerusalem, and the two neighborhoods would be surrounded by Jewish neighborhoods.