Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the high-level security cabinet Sunday he will soon announce expanded construction in the settlement blocs and ease all building restrictions in East Jerusalem.
The prime minister said he will remove any political obstacles from regional and local planning committees in order to ease construction in East Jerusalem, according to Hebrew media reports. He added that wide-scale building will soon be green-lighted in the settlement blocs as well.
The prime minister also told ministers that his “vision” is that all of the settlements in the West Bank will ultimately come under Israeli sovereignty in any accommodation, Channel 2 news reported.
Netanyahu’s declaration on Sunday convinced ministers from the settlement-backing Jewish Home party to postpone a cabinet vote on a bill to annex a West Bank settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem for at least a month, according to the Haaretz newspaper.
The controversial bill, presented by Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, would extend Israeli sovereignty to Ma’ale Adumim.
Instead, the cabinet voted unanimously not to approve the proposed legislation until after an expected meeting between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump next month.
Netanyahu told the ministers the Trump administration asked him to avoid any “surprise” unilateral measures, according to the Walla news website.
“I support Israeli sovereignty over Ma’ale Adumim,” the prime minister is quoted as saying. “There is no question about Ma’ale Adumim, and in any future accord it will be under Israeli sovereignty. But right now, at the request of the US administration, we were asked not to surprise them but to formulate a joint policy.”
Trump was set to speak with Netanyahu by phone at 8:30 p.m. Israel time on Sunday, the White House said.
Although the ministers decided not to present the bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, sources told the Ynet news site that they formulated a clear policy to the satisfaction of Bennett. Bennett has long proposed that Israel annex Area C (the parts of the West Bank under Israeli civilian and military control) and extend a type of semi-autonomy to Palestinians in the rest of the territory, arguing that the creation of a Palestinian state in that area poses a threat to Israel’s existence.
Netanyahu’s assurances came as the Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction of 566 new homes in East Jerusalem on Sunday, in a vote that had been pushed back from December in order to avoid angering the outgoing administration of former US president Barack Obama. The Palestinians condemned the decision as an explicit violation of a recent anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations.
While much of the international community considers these residential areas as settlements, Israel considers them neighborhoods of Jerusalem and argues that they will be part of Israel in any negotiated peace agreement.
The announcement of construction projects in East Jerusalem throughout Obama’s eight-year term repeatedly led to diplomatic scuffles between Washington and Jerusalem, most notably the announcement of the approval of over 1,000 homes in Ramat Shlomo in 2010 during a visit by then-vice president Joe Biden.
On Thursday, Bennett asserted the Trump administration would see a shift in Israel’s West Bank policies, including the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim, a city with some 40,000 residents.
But on Saturday, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a close ally of Netanyahu, rejected suggestions that Israel may unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, saying such a course of action would be “a disaster” for the country.
Israel has controlled the West Bank since capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War, but has never moved to annex any of the territory beyond extending sovereignty to East Jerusalem. It later applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria.
Most experts see Israel’s policy of extending sovereignty, in moves widely unrecognized by the international community, as tantamount to annexation.
Trump has assured Israel that things will be different after he takes office, lamenting last month that the Jewish state was “being treated very, very unfairly” by the international community after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334, which took aim at Israeli construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem.