Israeli authorities on Monday announced that they had delayed a hearing to advance a controversial settlement project in an area of the West Bank that critics say is essential to a future Palestinian state.
The session of the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee — the Defense Ministry body that authorizes settlement construction — was scheduled to take place on July 18, just four days after US President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel and the West Bank.
The meeting, during which the panel will hear objections to a massive housing project on the swath of land known as E-1, has been rescheduled for September 12.
Building in E-1 would link Jerusalem to a large settlement to its east, Ma’ale Adumim,while essentially bisecting the West Bank in two and make a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital nearly impossible, critics say.
The project was first proposed nearly two decades ago, and has been shelved repeatedly due to international pressure.
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu resurrected the plan in the midst of an election campaign in 2020, directing that it be moved to a filing stage with relevant planning authorities ahead of eventual final approval.
The plans, totaling 3,412 housing units, are currently at the public comment stage, requiring the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee to hear objections to them.
A large group of Palestinian attorneys along with several Israeli rights groups filed complaints against the project, but hearings were repeatedly delayed until last year. A final hearing had been scheduled for January but was yanked from the agenda.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said in March that he had aggressively pushed the Israeli government to withdraw the plan.
If the legal objections against the E1 plan are waived, as such objection often are, the project will still require several additional approvals before ground can be broken — a process that generally takes months, if not years.
But each advancement of such plans makes them more difficult to walk back and consequently draws significant concern from opponents of the settlement enterprise.
Such was the case since the Defense Ministry announced in May that it would hold the final hearing on the objections to the E1 project on July 18.
While it was initially scheduled to take place nearly a month after Biden’s visit to the region, the delay of the two-day trip to July 13 meant that the project would have been advanced just days after the president leaves the country.
While the White House has opposed the plan in principle, it was particularly concerned about the timing of the approval and had been pressuring Israel to cancel the July 18 session, according to two Israeli and US officials.
The last time Biden visited Israel was in 2010, when he was vice president. The trip was marred by an Israeli announcement of a project in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. Biden fumed at the time, saying in a statement that it “undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”