Israel tells US it will advance plans for thousands of settlement homes in late June

Move likely intended to mollify Netanyahu’s hardline coalition partners, a week after US pressured Jerusalem to delay controversial E1 settlement project

A general view shows houses in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, May 10, 2023. (Wisam Hashlamounn/ Flash90)
A general view shows houses in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, May 10, 2023. (Wisam Hashlamounn/ Flash90)

Israel has informed the US that it plans to announce “thousands” of new settlement homes at the end of the month, an Israeli official said Monday

The official, confirming a report first published by the Axios news site, told The Times of Israel that it was not clear whether the settlement plans would all be approved in back-to-back meetings of the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee within the Defense Ministry, as is traditionally the case, or whether the meetings would be spread out over several weeks.

However, he said the units that would be approved “would be in the thousands.”

According to Axios, which reported that the number of homes advanced will be roughly 4,000, the Biden administration is pushing Israel to hold off on the announcement or at least scale it back.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson said the US “has been clear that advancing settlements is an obstacle to peace and the achievement of a two-state solution.”

There was no official comment from Israel.

The Israeli plans come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed plans to advance the highly controversial E1 settlement project amid US pressure. The subsequent plan to move forward with thousands of settlement homes elsewhere appears to be an effort to placate Netanyahu’s coalition partners.

Israelis settlers and right wing activists participate in a march in the area known as E1 close to the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in protest at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to block construction there, February 13, 2014. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Israel notified the US of its E1 decision on Thursday, following a phone call between Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

US officials said that the Biden administration worked for weeks to have the E1 project removed from the agenda for weeks.

While the E1 project was not mentioned in either side’s readout of Thursday’s call, the State Department said Blinken raised “the need to uphold the commitments made at two regional meetings in Aqaba, Jordan and Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt to avoid measures that undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.”

The Palestinians have in recent weeks accused Israel of violating the commitments made in late February, which included a four-month freeze on holding meetings to advance new settlement homes and a six-month freeze on legalizing new outposts.

Israel argues that it technically has not done either, but it has green-lit construction in East Jerusalem and also illegally transferred a yeshiva in the northern West Bank, in what will make way for the legalization of the Homesh outpost.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a press conference in Jerusalem on January 30, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Pool/AFP)

The four-month moratorium on advancing plans for new settlement homes will expire at the end of June when the Defense Ministry body responsible for advancing West Bank construction is slated to reconvene.

The US has been seeking to hold a third gathering of Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, and Jordanian officials in order to extend the parties’ commitments to holding off on advancing unilateral measures, but the sides have yet to nail down a date.

Willingness from Egypt and Jordan to host and cooperate in another meeting has dissipated amid their frustration with the Israeli settlement advancements that have taken place since the Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh summits, according to a senior Arab diplomat.

Settlement approvals at the end of June could hamper efforts to hold a second Negev Forum ministerial summit. Morocco was supposed to host the gathering in March, but it has held off from finalizing a date amid escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians as well as discomfort with the new hardline Israeli government. An Israeli official said earlier Monday that the summit would likely take place in mid-July.

This will be the second time that the High Planning Subcommittee has advanced settlement homes since the establishment of the new hardline government on December 29. In February, it green-lit plans for 10,000 new homes — the most ever advanced in one sitting. It also advanced the legalization of nine West Bank outposts, drawing massive international uproar and a joint statement of condemnation from the UN Security Council.

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