Ahead of Biden visit, Israel delays hearing on construction in East Jerusalem

Shaked claims that building meeting is delayed for only a week, while opposition MKs slam government for ‘destructive measures’ that are a ‘surrender to terror’

Palestinian laborers work at a construction site in a new housing project in Har Homa in East Jerusalem, July 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Palestinian laborers work at a construction site in a new housing project in Har Homa in East Jerusalem, July 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Israel will delay a meeting to advance housing projects for both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that was scheduled to take place days after US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

The projects for housing in Jewish neighborhoods scheduled to come before the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction would have seen one new neighborhood built in Givat Shaked and another between Har Homa and Givat Hamatos, totaling roughly 2,000 homes.

After being pressed on the issue by an Israeli reporter tipped off by the settlement watchdog Peace Now, the office of Prime Minister Yair Lapid said it had been unaware of the project and that the meeting to advance it would be delayed.

Following reports that the project was being removed from the committee’s agenda, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked stressed that it was simply being briefly delayed by a week, not canceled. Shaked noted that scheduled hearings on construction in both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were being delayed.

“I will not allow on my watch for only construction plans for Jews to be affected,” said Shaked, who is campaigning for right-wing votes ahead of the November election. “Therefore I decided to push off all of the planning for one week only.”

Also Tuesday, Israel announced a series of measures intended as goodwill gestures to the Palestinians ahead of Biden’s visit. The moves include legalizing the status of 5,500 undocumented Palestinians and foreigners living in the West Bank and Gaza, approving six Palestinian housing projects in the West Bank and increasing the number of work permits for Gazan Palestinians.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, June 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In response, opposition lawmakers Yoav Kisch of Likud and Orit Strock of Religious Zionism — co-chairs of the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus — criticized the government for the decisions.

“The ‘confidence-building measures’ of the Lapid-Bennett government toward the Palestinians are destructive measures toward the Israeli electorate,” Kisch and Strock said in a statement. They accused the current ministers of being “busy saving the remnants of their political careers” instead of keeping their electoral promises.

Religious Zionism Knesset member Ofir Sofer claimed that the series of decisions ahead of Biden’s visit are “a surrender to terror, no less and no more.”

Last week, Israeli authorities also announced that they would delay a hearing of the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee that was originally slated to take place on July 18.

A picture taken from the controversial E1 corridor in the West Bank shows the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the background, February 25, 2020. (Ahamd Gharabli/AFP)

The hearing in the body — an arm of the Defense Ministry which authorizes settlement construction — was scheduled to deal with objections to a massive housing project on the swath of land known as E-1. The hearing has now been rescheduled for September 12.

Building in the highly controversial E-1 area — which would link Jerusalem to the Ma’ale Adumim settlement but divide the West Bank in half — was first proposed nearly two decades ago, and has been shelved repeatedly due to international pressure.

When Biden visited Israel as vice president in 2010, Israel unveiled plans to build 1,600 new homes in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem, angering the visiting leader. Biden was blindsided by the announcement, which overshadowed his time in Israel, and called it “counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”

Biden is set to land at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday for a visit that will include Israel and the West Bank, before leaving for Saudi Arabia on Friday.

No major announcements regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are expected from either the US or Israel during Biden’s visit. Biden is slated to reserve most of his remarks regarding the conflict for his Friday meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

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