A key settlements planning committee is set to convene next week to discuss the plans for the highly controversial E1 settlement project east of Jerusalem, which critics say would severely impede the chances of creating a Palestinian state.
The Subcommittee for Objections within the Higher Planning Committee of the Civil Administration is currently scheduled to discuss objections to the plan next Monday, although hearings have been postponed twice in the last nine months due to the highly sensitive nature of the E1 proposal and sustained international opposition.
The settlement movement and right-wing, religious parties have long sought to implement the project to build some 3,400 homes in a new neighborhood of the Maale Adumim settlement, but it is viewed by opponents of Israel’s West Bank settlements as a severe threat to Palestinian territorial contiguity and by extension the viability of a Palestinian state.
The project would effectively divide the north of the West Bank from the south, as well as the West Bank from East Jerusalem. Settlement building there has been vociferously opposed by the US, EU and others.
There will be two hearings next Monday regarding E1 dealing with objections to the planned settlement expansion, with representatives of local Palestinian municipal authorities as well as NGOs such as Peace Now, Bimkom and others who have filed objections invited to attend.
The hearing for the objections is a necessary part of the planning process, and only after it has been completed can the Subcommittee for Objections decide to approve or reject the plans. A further hearing on validating the plans would also be needed for final approval.
In February at an Israeli-Palestinian summit in Aqaba, Jordan, a joint communiqué issued following the meetings stated that Israel committed 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.
Next Monday’s meeting was originally scheduled for March 27, but was postponed for three months.
And the hearing in the Subcommittee for Objections was also postponed three times in 2022, in January, July, and September after pressure from the US against the Bennett-Lapid government.
The US has voiced criticism against the current government over several recent developments in the settlements, in particular criticizing the decision to repeal a law barring Israeli settlement in the northern West Bank and steps taken to legalize the illegal outpost of Homesh in that same region.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken once again stated US objections to continued settlement construction.
“Settlement expansion clearly presents an obstacle to the horizon of hope we seek,” Blinken said in a speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington.
“Likewise, any move toward annexation of the West Bank, de facto or de jure, disruption of the historic status quo at the holy sites, the continuing demolitions of homes and the evictions of families that have lived in their homes for generations damage prospects for two states,” he said.
The Peace Now organization which campaigns against settlement construction was strongly critical of the move to reschedule the E1 hearings, saying the plan constitutes an effort to annex the West Bank.
“The advancement of construction in E1 is another step in the current Israeli government’s actions, which since its establishment, has been establishing new settlements, returning settlers to the northern West Bank, and now working to create conditions for the annexation of the West Bank,” the organization said in a statement to the press.
“Just last week, the Israeli government violated its commitment to the US government and re-established the outpost of Homesh in the northern West Bank. Next week it will violate an Israeli commitment again by promoting the construction plan in E1.
“This pro-settler and annexationist government seems to continue to act according to a systematic plan that leads us to a reality of apartheid, undermining the chances of a political solution between Israelis and Palestinians. The Israeli public and our friends around the world must wake up and stop Israel from falling into the abyss.”
Israel has been pushing the project for almost three decades.
The project contained two plans north of Ma’ale Adumim totaling 3,426 homes that were prepared by the government of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 and advanced through an early planning stage called “deposit” in 2004 by the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon dropped the plans upon the request of US president George W. Bush. In 2012, Netanyahu greenlit the resurrection of the plan, but it was later frozen amid international pressure.