US says “deeply concerned” by announcement; PA threatens to appeal issue to UN Security Council; Netanyahu nixes Housing Ministry tende
rs for some 1,200 E1 units; official: PM’s order seeks to maintain int’l focus on Iran.
E1 area near Jerusalem. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu directed Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel to “reconsider” plans for preliminary planning of some 24,0000 housing units beyond the Green Line, saying this would harm efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
He said that the announcements of the preliminary planning is without any statutory standing, would do nothing to promote settlement, and only create an unnecessary conflict with the international community at a time when intensive efforts are underway to get an improved deal between the world powers and Iran.
Ariel, according to a statement put out by the PMO, agreed to reconsider all the plans.
State Department Jen Psaki said that the US was “deeply concerned” by the announcement.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, threatened immediately to take the issue to the UN Security Council and intensify efforts to join various UN organizations.
“In the coming hours, the Palestinian leadership is going to consider appealing to the UN Security Council and seeking membership of international organizations if Israel does not reverse its latest settlement moves,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
The current round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations began in July when the Palestinians agreed to freeze efforts to gain acceptance in various UN bodies, and Israel agreed to free 104 convicted Palestinian terrorists over four stages.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office expressed “unhappiness” Tuesday at the timing of the preliminary planning for the units spread throughout the West Bank.
Peace Now revealed Tuesday that the Housing Ministry issued tenders in the last two weeks for preliminary work to be done on the units, including hiring an architect to begin drawing up plans for some 1,200 units in E1, between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem.
Government officials said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, after being informed on Tuesday of the developments, stepped in immediately and demanded the ministry freeze the E1 plans, saying this issue was too sensitive and would detract international attention from Iran.
Israel was roundly censured in December 2011 when it announced plans to develop E1 following the UN General Assembly’s vote to gain non member statehood status to the Palestinians.
“We think the people in the Housing Ministry should be more responsible,” one government official said, stopping short of accusing Bayit Yehudi Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel of intentionally trying to sabotage negotiations with the Palestinians.
“Maybe somebody was looking for headlines.” According to the official, Netanyahu specifically instructed that the E1 plans not be worked on “because at this sensitive time the international focus must be clearly on Iran, and we don’t want any issue to divert the attention of the international community from this crucial goal.”
Asked why, if Netanyahu was concerned about the international reaction, he did not ask the ministry to shelve all the plans at this time, the official said because E1 was the most sensitive.
A Housing Ministry spokesman said that preliminary tenders such as these are issued by the tens of thousands throughout the year throughout the country, and that the vast majority – for various reasons ranging from environmental concerns to objections from various planning bodies — do not come to fruition. He said that of the 650,000 units in the country in various preliminary stages of planning, only some 25,000 will likely be built, and that only over a period ranging from four to 20 years.
Regardless, the issue is sure to further strain ties with both US, the Palestinians and key actors in the international community who earlier this month protested strongly against Israel’s announcement of the construction of 3,500 units, many of them in east Jerusalem, following Israel’s release of a second batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners.
Netanyahu caught wind of the plans after Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who was contacted by foreign ambassadors who learned of the tenders from Peace Now, called cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit for clarifications.
In addition to E1, the plans also include 2,500 units in Ma’aleh Adumim, some 12,000 units throughout the Binyamin region, including in Shilo, Eli, Mitzpe Yeriho and Shvut Rachel, and the rest in the Gush Etzion region.
According to Peace Now, the total number of technical plans are23,786, of which 4,000 are in east Jerusalem and 19,786 in the West Bank. Peace Now spokesman Lior Amihai said the level of planning was unusual but cautioned that it would be years before any building could actually take place.
“These planning tenders do not mean imminent construction. With tenders for construction, we can expect plans to be implemented on the ground imminently. With tenders for planning, what we are seeing is a very early stage that can open the door for construction not in the short term, but several years down the road,” Peace Now said.
“However, these tenders are nonetheless a serious government action, involving costs estimated by the Ministry at over NIS 49 million and paving the way for construction in coming years. As such, they constitute an important indicator of Government of Israel intentions for future construction in the planned areas,” Peace Now said. Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel called on Netanyahu to allow planning to move forward for E1, noting that nothing could be built without further approval from the prime minister.
In a letter he wrote to Netanyahu, Kashriel said, “I understand that we are under pressure from the US government because of the need to stop Iran’s nuclear program and the need to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians. But preparing building plans for land in Ma’aleh Adumim is solely a municipal issue. Marketing homes would still need authorization from the prime minister.”
“I am therefore asking you to rescind your decision to freeze technical planning for the Mevazerret Zion neighborhood (E1) and to allow the Ministry of Construction and Housing to continue their work on these plans.”
Kashriel added that building homes in E1 would help provide a solution to the housing shortage in his city and in nearby Jerusalem and would in particular allow for young couple to purchase their first home.
MK Orit Stuck (Bayit Yehudi) said Netanyahu’s decision with regard to E1 was one more worrying sign of unfair concessions to the US. Israel’s able to honor the decisions it has already made.
Peace Now said in response the E1 decision was meant to turn people’s attention away from the larger issue of planning for 18,000 homes.
Opposition Leader Shelly Yachimovich accused Netanyahu’s government of operating with two heads.
“One head enters and exits the room and conducts a serious negotiation and the second does everything in its power to clarify to the world that Israel doesn’t have any real intention to come to an agreement with the Palestinians, but rather will continue the conflict. The wave of building in the settlements, to which were added 20,000 homes, has far reaching consequences for Israel’s international standing.
“This step only added fuel to the tension with the American government and endangers our strategic alliance with it,” Yachimovich said.
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
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Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
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Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
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Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
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Feb 02, 2020 0The remarks from the US official came in wake of the Palestinian decision to reject the administration’s peace plan. US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to...
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