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Housing Ministry publishes massive settlement plan, Netanyahu orders review

*POST UPDATED BELOW*

Israel’s Ministry of Housing and Construction (run by Jewish Home MK Uri Ariel, who lives in a West Bank settlement) published tenders last week for 20,000 new settlements units, including a tender to build 1,200 units in the southern part of the highly controversial E-1 area, Haaretz (Hebrew) reported Tuesday. According to Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson, the tenders call for construction in 23 settlements, the largest scope in the last decade, at a cost of NIS 50 million.

Just minutes after the report came out, Haaretz followed up with the news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the housing minister to immediately halt any constructions plans for E-1, a move that proves just how sensitive and controversial this area is.

E-1 (derived from “East 1”) is a term applied by the Housing Ministry to the area located just east of the Jerusalem municipal boundary, on the hills between the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement and Jerusalem. The area borders on the Palestinian towns of Anata, Abu Dis, Azariya and A-Zayim. E-1, which covers some 12,000 dunams (12 sq. kilometers), is part of the Ma’aleh Adumim jurisdiction area.

Read more: What is E-1 and why is it so important?

The reason E-1 is so sensitive is because it is the main artery between the northern and southern West Bank. According to a report by Ir Amim, a non-profit focusing on the occupation’s effects on Jerusalem:

Israeli control of  the E-1 area would prevent any option of developing Palestinian portions of East Jerusalem and create a barrier between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, precluding the possibility of its functioning as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Since 2004, strong American intervention during the Bush administration has prevented construction in E-1. It is also the site of the Palestinian protest village Bab al-Shams, set up at the start of 2013 to oppose the government’s announcement to build 4,000 housing units in the area, in response to the Palestinian UN statehood bid.

The fact that Netanyahu ordered an immediate halt to any construction in E-1 is proof that:

1. He is aware that the U.S. considers it the last nail in the two-state coffin that clearly indicates Israel is unwilling and uninterested in negotiations with Palestinians that would lead to a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as its capital.

2. He is trying to avoid any more criticism from Kerry, amid the already high tensions between them surrounding both settlement construction and Iran nuclear talks.

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UPDATE: According to Haaretz, the State Deptartment has issued a statement demanding clarification and insisting it does not “recognize legitimacy of settlements.” If that’s true, why hasn’t the Obama administration made a halt to settlements a prerequisite for continued negotiations? Why doesn’t the move clearly show that Israel is not a partner in peace?

UPDATE: Netanyahu has ordered Housing and Construction Minister Ariel to reconsider plans to build the 20,000 units. According to a government press release:

This step does not contribute to settlement. On the contrary, there is damage here for settlement. This is a meaningless step – legally and in practice – and an action that creates an unnecessary confrontation with the international community at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the international community to reach a better deal with Iran. At this time, the attention of the international community must not be diverted from the main effort – preventing Iran from receiving an agreement that will allow it to continue its military nuclear program. As a member of the Government, action must be coordinated and have the benefit of forethought.

Minister Ariel told Netanyahu that he would accede to his request.

Related:
Eviction of Palestinian outpost exposes double standard on settlements
Resource: What is the E1 area, and why is it so important?

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Kolumn9

      3. He made a commitment to not build in E1 while the current negotiations are ongoing. If these talks break down E1 is going up.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Tenders for 20,000 new units while negotiation on the extent of settlements is underway? Right…..

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        The deal “everyone knows the terms of” is 1967 for 1948. The Palestinians give up the right of return for the refugees and they get a complete withdrawal to the pre-67 lines. Any Israeli gov’t would have no choice but to accept, the whole world wants those terms. Thus, the settlements are irrelevant. Even Obama said that some months ago. However, the Palestinians will never agree to these terms, so if they don’t like the settlements, it is their own fault.

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          Good logic there. We so want to stop building settlements, but those darn Palestinians simply won’t let us.

          Try selling that to the Americans again, see where that gets you.

          Personally, I think John Kerry is about as fed up of Israel as a secretary of state has ever been.

          Reply to Comment
        • If the settlements are irrelevant, why plan on building more at a cost of “NIS 50 million?”

          Reply to Comment
          • XYZ

            So why don’t the Palestinians come forward and say they accept the deal I laid out? They know they would get it. Please answer this question.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gearoid

            No they don’t. The ’67 lines requires giving up major settlement blocs. Israel won’t do that. So you get land swaps. But Israel refuses to set borders or provide maps in negotiations, so no one is sure what will be traded and what won’t.

            So why exactly should the Palestinians give up their best bargaining chip? For something they know the Israeli government will not provide? The decision to build all these housing units only reinforces how unreliable the Israeli government is. They have a radical settler as the Housing Minister!

            Reply to Comment
          • Well, XYZ, I’ve suggested elsewhere that the right of return functions as a nationalism unifier (over the WB, Gaza, and exhiles), giving it a religious veto power over negotiations which can never fulfill its promise. Mirror to the settlements of Greater Israel, both are reasons why I conclude a One State outcome, not solution, is inevitable, although I exclude Gaza in this. Focus will be on how one treats the people one is forced to live with, and that will be the WB. Talk of “solutions” has become, for me, no different than argument over the End of Days.

            Reply to Comment

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