Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu directed Construction and Housing Minister Uri
Ariel to “reconsider” preliminary plans for some 24,000 housing units beyond the
Green Line, saying the move would harm efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear
He said the announcement of the preliminary planning was without
any statutory standing, would do nothing to promote settlement, and would only
create an unnecessary conflict with the international community at a time when
intensive efforts were under way to get an improved deal between the world
powers and Iran.
Ariel, according to a statement from the Prime
Minister’s Office, agreed to reconsider all the plans.
revelation that the ministry had begun the preliminary planning for the units
sparked renewed diplomatic strain with the US on Tuesday.
Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US was surprised and “deeply
concerned” by the announcement.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, threatened
to take the issue to the UN Security Council immediately 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.
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 in four
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office expressed “unhappiness”
Tuesday at the timing of the preliminary planning for the units, which are
spread throughout the West Bank.
Peace Now revealed Tuesday that the
Construction and Housing Ministry had 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, extending Ma’aleh Adumim toward
Government officials said Netanyahu, after being informed of
the developments on Tuesday, had stepped in immediately and demanded that 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 grant non-member statehood status to the
“We think the people in the Construction and Housing
Ministry should be more responsible,” one government official said, stopping
short of accusing Bayit Yehudi’s 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
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 it was because E1 was the most sensitive.
and Housing Ministry spokesman said that preliminary tenders such as these were
issued by the tens of thousands throughout the year and throughout the country,
and that the vast majority – for various reasons, ranging from environmental
concerns to objections from planning bodies – did not come to fruition. He said
that of the 650,000 units in the country that were in various preliminary stages
of planning, only some 25,000 would likely be built, and that only over a period
of four to 20 years.
Regardless, the issue is sure to further strain ties
with the US, the Palestinians and key actors in the international community who
protested strongly earlier this month against Israel’s announcement of the
construction of 3,500 units – many of them in east Jerusalem – following the
release of a second batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners.
wind of the plans after Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – who was contacted by
foreign ambassadors who had learned of the tenders from Peace Now – called
cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit for clarifications.
In addition to
E1, the plans include 2,500 units in Ma’aleh Adumim and some 12,000 units
throughout the Binyamin region – including in Shilo, Eli, Mitzpe Yeriho and
Shvut Rachel. The rest are in the Gush Etzion region.
According to Peace
Now, the total number of technical plans is 23,786, of which 4,000 are in east
Jerusalem and 19,786 are 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,” Peace Now said. “With tenders for construction, we
can expect plans to be implemented on the ground imminently.
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
Nonetheless, it said, the tenders are “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 the government’s intentions for future construction in
the planned areas.”
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.”
continued, “I am therefore asking you to rescind your decision to freeze
technical planning for [E1] and to allow the Construction and Housing Ministry
to continue its 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 couples to purchase
their first homes.
MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi) said Netanyahu’s
decision with regard to E1 was one more worrying sign of unfair concessions to
Meanwhile, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich 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,” she said.
“The wave of building in the
settlements, to which were added 20,000 homes, has far reaching consequences for
Israel’s international standing,” she argued. “This step only adds fuel to the
tension with the American government and endangers our strategic alliance with
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