The Civil Administration Planning Council on Wednesday approved plans for the construction of some 3,000 housing units in the E1 area between East Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. The hurriedly scheduled meeting of the council was a result of government pressure, apparently to demonstrate a determination to go ahead with the construction in an extremely sensitive area despite global condemnation.
The public now has two months to file objections to the proposal before it goes to the District Planning Committee for final approval.
The E1 housing expansion was announced last Friday, a day after the UN voted to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status to nonmember observer state. On Sunday the government announced plans to expand Jerusalem’s Givat Hamatos and Ramat Shlomo neighborhoods, and on Wednesday Army Radio reported that the Jerusalem Region Planning and Construction Committee will meet in two weeks to review plans for an additional 900 housing units in Gilo, also in East Jerusalem.
The government, which announced some of the plans as a response to the Palestinian Authority’s success at the UN General Assembly last Thursday, maintains that the construction projects are in accordance with Israel’s strategic interests and that the state is within its rights to build there. At the same time, officials have said the E1 project is only at the preliminary stage.
Israeli ambassadors in several European countries and in Egypt were summoned by their host countries in recent days to be rebuked for the building plans, and the US has led calls for Israel to reconsider.
E1 is particularly controversial because Israeli building there could prevent a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and cut off the West Bank from East Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, built on land Israel captured during the Six Day War and subsequently annexed, is widely regarded overseas as an illegal settlement. The plan for some 900 new housing units was first announced in October and immediately drew condemnation from the international community.
“This is just one plan in a series of projects that the government approved,” said committee member and Jerusalem city councilman Yair Gabai about the proposed construction in Gilo.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Wednesday that the Palestinians will ask the UN Security Council to demand a halt to construction of both E1 and Givat Hamatos.
“If the Israelis build E1 and Givat Hamatos, it means the idea of peace, the idea of a two-state solution, will disappear,” he said.
“If the US can stop the Israelis without the Security Council, they should do it,” he said. “They (the Americans) cannot stop us and use the veto against people trying to save the peace process.”
Several Israeli opposition figures, meanwhile, slammed the government over the plans, and branded the flurry of construction announcements as counterproductive and short-sighted electioneering by a government that wants to attract right-wing voters ahead of the January 22 elections.
Peace Now’s Settlement Watch director Hagit Ofran told Army Radio Wednesday that the declarations were a sign of election panic.
“The unprecedented announcements of construction in settlement areas is not a punishment for the Palestinians but for Israel,” she said. “We don’t deserve to have the government of Israel turn us into a state that objects to peace and is isolated by the world.”