ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 139

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Hearing for controversial E1 settlement project postponed once again

Approval for thousands of homes east of Jerusalem has been sought by Israel’s right for years: anti-settlement groups say it would undermine the viability of a Palestinian state

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

View of the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumin and the area known as E1, in the West Bank, on January 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)
View of the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumin and the area known as E1, in the West Bank, on January 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)

A scheduled meeting of a key panel to discuss the highly controversial E1 settlement project outside of Jerusalem has been postponed by three months, according to a report on Sunday.

The settlement movement, together with the right-wing and religious parties, have long sought to implement the project to build thousands of homes in the area, but it is viewed by opponents of Israel’s West Bank settlements as a severe threat to Palestinian territorial contiguity, and, by extension, to the viability of a Palestinian state.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry and was recently given control over construction planning in the West Bank, has himself strongly backed the project, but his office declined to comment as to why a hearing on the plans was again postponed.

The E1 project includes plans to build 3,412 homes in a new neighborhood of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem.

Following repeated postponements under the last government due to US and European pressure, the subcommittee for objections inside the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee was once again scheduled to hold a hearing later this month regarding objections to the project.

Last month, a joint communique from an Israeli-Palestinian summit in Aqaba, Jordan, included a commitment by Jerusalem to “stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months,” although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently insisted there was no settlement freeze.

On Sunday, Kan reported that the meeting of the subcommittee, which had been scheduled for March 27, was rescheduled for June 12. The Civil Administration declined to directly confirm the report.

Following news of the hearing’s postponement, the left-wing Peace Now organization said that the E1 plan “harms the chances of peace” and said it belonged “in the garbage can of history,” adding, “Instead of postponing and waiting for an opportune time the government should shelve it for the sake of Israel’s interests.”

File: Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich, center, visits the illegal settlement outpost of Evyatar, in the West Bank, together with Nachala Settlement Movement leader director Tzvi Elimelech Sharbaf and Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, on June 27, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Critics such as Peace Now point out that the E1 plan would cut the West Bank in two and create a settlement corridor from Israeli East Jerusalem neighborhoods to Ma’ale Adumim, and thereby prevent Palestinian geographical contiguity and development between Ramallah, East Jerusalem, and Bethlehem.

Right-wing members of the opposition made political hay out of the postponement, accusing the government of weakness in the face of external pressure.

“After the Netanyahu government restored a policy of ‘containment’ and decided to accept a drizzle of rockets [from Gaza] against towns in the western Negev, after postponing the evacuation of [the illegal Bedouin encampment] Khan al-Ahmar, and canceling the legalization of the [illegal settlement outpost] Evyatar, after transferring NIS 200 million to Palestinian Authority President [Mahmoud Abbas], now they are postponing construction in E1,” tweeted Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer.

Right-wing ministers, including ultranationalist leader of the Otzma Yehudit party and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, as well as the far-right Settlements and National Missions Minister Orit Strock, did not comment on the postponement of the hearing.

The Yesha settlements umbrella organization also declined to comment on the new delay to the E1 plans.

Following the Aqaba summit, Ben Gvir insisted, “What happened in Jordan (if it happened) will remain in Jordan.”

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