Bennett cut down plans for new settlement homes to avoid angering US — report

According to Kan, PM took number of houses set for approval down by 1,000 ahead of planned first meeting with Biden

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits at 'Migdal Nofim' retirement home in Jerusalem, July 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits at 'Migdal Nofim' retirement home in Jerusalem, July 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A new plan to approve some 2,200 new settlement homes in the West Bank was cut down by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett from an original 3,200 due to a desire not to upset the US administration, Kan news reported Thursday night.

According to the Israeli TV report, the new batch of homes is seen as particularly sensitive, being the first to be brought for approval under President Joe Biden’s administration.

Thus, the final list was cut down by some 1,000 homes that were okayed by the professional level but did not get approval from Bennett, who is anxious not to anger Washington before his first meeting with Biden even takes place.

The two countries have been discussing a trip by Bennett to Washington, and the Israeli premier is expected to head to the White House in the coming weeks.

The new housing plans are set to be approved next week by the Civil Administration.

At the same time Defense Minister Benny Gantz has also approved the construction of 1,000 Palestinian homes in the Israeli-controlled Area C, mostly in the Jenin and Bethlehem areas, a defense official confirmed to The Times of Israel Wednesday.

Area C makes up some 60 percent of the West Bank and is fully under Israeli security and administrative control. Israel rarely approves Palestinian construction in Area C, with the overwhelming majority of requests being denied. This has resulted in rampant illegal building, which is in turn often demolished by Israel.

Most of the international community considers settlement construction a violation of international law. The Trump administration in 2018 announced that it did not consider this to be the case, backing Israel, which rejects the position that the territories are occupied, saying they were captured from Jordan in a defensive war.

Illustrative: Construction of new housing in the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, September 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Iran is expected to top the agenda of a Bennett-Biden meeting, with Israel hoping to coordinate closely with the US on policy toward its regional foe.

Earlier this month Israel’s new National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata met with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington, in talks focused on Iran and the Palestinians.

The meeting marked the first in-person meetings between aides to the two countries’ new leaders, as contacts have so far been held virtually. The meeting was seen as preparation for a first meeting between the US president and Israeli prime minister.

“Mr. Sullivan and Dr. Hulata discussed the strategic challenges in the region, including the threat posed by Iran, and agreed to consult closely on these issues,” according to a US readout of the meeting.

“They also exchanged views about the opportunities in the region, including advancing the normalization of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world and recent positive developments in Israel’s relationship with Jordan,” the statement said.

“Mr. Sullivan also stressed the importance of pursuing positive steps related to the Palestinians, which are critical to peace, security and prosperity.”

Yair Lapid, left, and Naftali Bennett seen during a plenary session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last month, an Israeli official confirmed that the Biden administration agreed to hold off on plans to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinians until after the new Israeli government has passed a budget in early November.

The US is wary of moves that might destabilize Bennett’s nascent coalition and bring about the return of former prime minister Netanyahu, the official said anonymously.

The consulate, which mainly served the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, was officially shut down in 2019 by former US president Donald Trump as part of the administration’s transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem. Much of the staff at the historic mission on Agron Street have continued their same jobs at the same location, though under a newly named Palestinian Affairs Unit formed under the larger umbrella of US relations to Israel, considered a de facto downgrading of ties that Biden is keen to reverse.

Bennett’s government asked for the delay, explaining that opposition members would use the reopening of a de facto mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem to drive a wedge into the still-green coalition, the official said.

The new government, made up of an array of parties from across the political spectrum, still needs to agree on passing a budget before it can be considered stable enough to withstand such criticisms from the opposition. It has until November 4, otherwise elections will be called.

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