Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel was hopeful Saturday night that after 18 years the Israeli government might be finally ready to authorize construction in an area of his West Bank city, known as E1.
On Friday, a senior diplomatic source told reporters that Israel was prepared to advance plans to build in E1.
The source added that authorization would be given for 3,000 new units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. But no details were given as to where those units would be built.
The move to shore up West Bank settlements and Jewish building in east Jerusalem comes in response to the UN General Assembly vote granting the Palestinians the status of non-member state, a move that is a de facto recognition of the state of Palestine.
Kashriel told The Jerusalem Post that he heard of the potential movement on E1 only from the media, and that no one had been in touch with him from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I have plans to build 3,500 units in E1 that are ready to be deposited and can be turned in as soon as the government will let me,” he said. Kashriel said it could take a year from the moment the plans are deposited until final authorizations are given.
He has long lobbied for permission to deposit the plans for the only large tract of land on which he can expand his city, which is located outside of Jerusalem on the way to the Dead Sea.
Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin first promised Kashriel that he could build there in 1994, Kashriel said.
Since then, he added, every prime minister has made a similar pledge but failed to make good on his word. He said he was hopeful that Netanyahu might be the first Israeli leader to honor the pledge with respect to E1.
E1 is located on state land and there are no Palestinian homes on it, Kashriel said. He added that it would become part of Israel in any final status agreement with the Palestinians.
But Palestinians have insisted that E1 must be part of their future state and that settlement building on it would make it impossible to have contiguous land in that area. The US has long pressured Israel not to build there.
Settler leaders over the weekend said they too were hopeful that the government would finally move forward on E1. They also welcomed news of the new construction but had no concrete details on it.
Efrat Council head Oded Revivi said he was hoping to receive approval for 140 new homes.
Yigal Dilmony, who is the deputy director-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said that approvals could also be granted for new homes in Karnei Shomron. But he cautioned that settlement building should not be a punitive response to Palestinian actions, rather an ordinary event based on Israeli housing needs.
A better response, he said, would be to authorize the Levy report, which calls for transforming outposts in Judea and Samaria into legal settlements.
Dilmony also urged the government to stop new Palestinian building in Area C and to freeze European funding of those projects.
The Ministry of Construction and Housing said it planned to issue tenders this week for hundreds of new units in the east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev, but it was unclear if those units were part of a project that had already been announced earlier this month.
Ariel Attias (Shas), minister of construction and housing, said there was no point in stopping settlement construction while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continued to delegitimize Israel. He noted that Netanyahu had frozen new settlement construction for 10 months from November 2009 to September 2010, but received nothing for it from the Palestinians.
Peace Now said Netanyahu this year had already issued 3,046 tenders for new homes over the pre-1967 line, of which 2,386 are located in east Jerusalem and 660 are in the West Bank. It is double the number of tenders issued last year and the highest number issued in the last decade.
The Labor Party said this was not the time to announce new building.
“There is no objection to Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, but at this time it is advisable to lower the flames,” the party stated on Friday. “Declarations of this nature promote nothing and are liable to hurt Israel’s interests in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs.”
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beytenu) said this was exactly the moment to build in the West Bank.
“PA President Mahmoud Abbas was wrong in his address to the United Nations,” said Aharonovitch on Saturday at a weekly cultural event in Ramat Hasharon.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas] made a speech full of hate, and it is impossible to achieve peace with him,” Aharonovitch continued. “Those who violate an agreement need to know that there are two sides to a coin. There is a national agreement on a united Jerusalem and settlement blocs.”
Speaking at the same event, Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On decried the possibility of further settlement building.
“The settlements must be evacuated, not built up,” she said. “There is no greater obstacle to an agreement than the settlements, and there is no heavier economic millstone that burdens the middle class and weaker sectors of society in Israel than the occupation.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.