Hearing on controversial E1 settlement plan postponed again

Third and final hearing for public comment on the project – called ‘lethal’ for future Palestinian state by critics – pushed off without new date

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 hearing in a key settlement planning forum regarding the highly controversial E1 construction project has been postponed for the third time without a future date being set.

The left-wing Ir Amim and Peace Now organizations — which have both submitted objections to the project — said they were informed of the postponement by the Higher Planning Committee of the Civil Administration, which oversees settlement planning in the West Bank.

The hearing had been scheduled for Monday in the Subcommittee for Objections of the Higher Planning Committee, and would have been the third and final time the subcommittee convened on the project.

The Prime Minister’s Office, the Defense Ministry and a spokesman for Defense Minister Benny Gantz declined to comment on why the hearing was postponed again. Diplomatic pressure over the last year from the US has been the cause of previous delays.

The construction plan for E1, which lies within the municipal boundaries of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem, includes 3,412 housing units and was submitted to the subcommittee by the Netanyahu government shortly before the 2020 national election.

The Palestinian Authority and left-wing Israeli organizations argue that construction in the area would severely restrict access to East Jerusalem from the major Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, and would create a major obstacle to territorial contiguity for any future Palestinian state.

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as he is shown aerial defense systems, Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Tel Aviv, as Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right of Biden, looks on. (AP/Evan Vucci)

The Biden administration has strongly opposed the plans for the E1 area, with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides voicing public criticism of the plans in March.

“E1 was a disaster. I went full bore on E1,” Nides said during a Peace Now webinar regarding the US pressure to halt the January hearing in the subcommittee.

The Biden administration again pressured Israel to postpone the hearing which had been rescheduled for July, due to both principled opposition and a wish to avoid progress on the project just days after President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel that month.

Peace Now welcomed the decision on Thursday to again postpone the subcommittee hearing, but said the plans should be shelved completely.

“E1 is lethal to the two-state solution, highly detrimental to Palestinian freedom of movement and to connection between different parts of the future Palestinian state,” said the organization. “The Israeli government, and in particular Defense Minister Benny Gantz (in whose jurisdiction these decisions lie), must take the plan off the table completely.”

MK Orit Strock of the far-right, pro-settlement Religious Zionism party strongly criticized the decision, however, saying that it reflected Gantz’s political position as “a man of the left” who wishes to ensure territorial contiguity for a Palestinian state.

“Gantz is moving towards a Palestinian state not just through steps he is preventing but through steps he is not preventing, such as the seizure by the Palestinian Authority of land,” said Strock in reference to the claims by the Israeli right of widespread illegal Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, where the Israeli settlements are located and where Israel maintains both military and civil control.

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