Netanyahu says he’s ordered 3,500-home project in contentious E1 West Bank area

Apparent gesture to settlers 6 days before elections would connect Ma’ale Adumim to East Jerusalem, bisecting a future Palestinian state

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

View of the settlement of Ma'ale Adumin, in the West Bank overlooking the E1 area, January 4, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)
View of the settlement of Ma'ale Adumin, in the West Bank overlooking the E1 area, January 4, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he had ordered the promotion of a plan for some 3,500 homes in a contentious West Bank area that has long been frozen due to objections from governments around the world supportive of a two-state solution.

The project in the so-called E1 area between East Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim city-settlement would bisect the western West Bank, substantially curbing the possibility for development in the center of a future Palestinian state if one were to be created.

The project Netanyahu referred to actually comprises 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 green-lit the resurrection of the plan and it was once again approved for “deposit.” The Haaretz daily reported at the time that France and the UK considered recalling their ambassadors from Israel in response to the approval. The project has since been frozen due to what Netanyahu acknowledged Tuesday was pressure from European governments and the US.

Speaking at the B’Sheva conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that he had ordered that the E1 project be advanced through the next planning stage in which its details are publicized in Israeli newspapers. Members of the public are then given the opportunity to present objections to the plans to the Civil Administration, before they can be given final approval for construction in a process that often takes two to three years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the B’sheva group, on February 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“This [announcement] has tremendous importance and I think everyone here understands this,” he told the crowd at the right-wing, national religious B’Sheva outlet’s conference.

On Thursday, the Civil Administration will convene to advance plans for over 1,100 settler homes throughout the West Bank in its first quarterly session of the 2020 calendar year. The 12 projects in 11 settlements on the docket include one for 620 homes in the central West Bank town of Eli, which will receive final approval for construction. Substantial development of the town had been frozen for decades due to petitions in the High Court of Justice by Palestinians claiming that the town was built on their land. The court officially sided with the settlers last week, allowing for the settlement to move forward with plans to expand.

David Elhayani, who chairs the Yesha Council umbrella group of settler mayors, thanked Netanyahu in a statement, saying his Tuesday announcement would allow for “strategic and widespread construction” in the West Bank.

The Peace Now settlement watchdog, on the other hand, said Netanyahu was “selling Israel’s national interests and dragging the country toward a bi-national state” in order to win more votes from settlers in Monday’s election.

The West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad, January 10, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Tuesday announcement by Netanyahu appeared to be the latest in a string of gestures toward settlers and their supporters in the weeks ahead of the election in a bid to shore up support for his right-wing bloc.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office ordered that 12 illegal outposts in the West Bank be connected to the state’s official power grid.

Last week, Netanyahu announced that he had lifted restrictions on the construction of the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, saying that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents there, in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.

In January, the Housing Ministry began advancing a plan to build a massive Jewish neighborhood in an East Jerusalem area that appears to be earmarked in the Trump administration’s peace plan for a Palestinian tourism center.

Netanyahu finished his Tuesday speech by saying that he would only be able to continue expanding Israel’s presence beyond the Green Line if those in the audience voted for him next week.

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