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Council okays next stage of controversial E1 plan
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
05/12/2012
Ignoring int'l pleas to halt project, council approves apartments in W. Bank, triggering start of 60-day period for filing of objections.
 
Israel turned a blind eye to international condemnation and, as promised, pushed forward plans on Wednesday to build 3,500 homes in E1, a mostly empty area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement.

After holding a discussion on the matter and hearing from the Ma’aleh Adumim engineer, the Higher Planning Council of Judea and Samaria deposited the plans.

The move opens the door to a bureaucratic process that could allow for construction to start in one or two years.

The bureaucratic process itself can be concluded fairly quickly, Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel said.

There is now a 60-day objection period, after which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak must sign the plans, he said.

But in light of the political nature of the project, Palestinians and left-wing Israeli groups will most likely file objections, he said. Answering those objections takes time, and it is possible that opponents of the project will turn to the High Court of Justice, he added.

Kashriel assumes it will take one to two years before he can build in the 1,200- hectare (2,965-acre) tract of land located within his city’s municipal boundaries, but across the highway from the rest of the community. Since 2008, the headquarters of the Samaria and Judea police district has been located in E1.

“I am very happy, the residents are very happy,” Kashriel said of the Higher Planning Council’s move. He heard the news when the city engineer called him on his cellphone from the council meeting, as he sat in his Ma’aleh Adumim office.

Kashriel has waited 18 years to deposit the plans ever since then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin promised him he could build there back in 1994.

“We thank the prime minister [Netanyahu] for his courage and for safeguarding the nation’s interests,” Kashriel said.

Over the years, he has lobbied hard for permission to build in E1, including placing a caravan temporarily on the site, to protest the continued governmental refusal to authorize building plans.

At stake for Kashriel is the future of his city of 36,000 people – E1 is the only remaining tract of land on which he can build.

It would also strengthen Israel’s hold on Ma’aleh Adumim and neighboring east Jerusalem in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians.

Palestinians say E1 is critical for them because control of it would strengthen their claim to east Jerusalem, which they want as their future capital.

If E1 were incorporated into a Palestinian state, it would allow growth of east Jerusalem neighborhoods into the West Bank, creating a continuous line of Palestinian development to nearby Jericho and down to the Dead Sea.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday that the decision to deposit E1 plans crossed a red line and made a contiguous state impossible.

Peace Now said it destroyed the possibility of a two-state solution and opened “diplomatic war” with Israel’s best friends in the international community.

“What is a small step for settlers, is a large step forward toward total Israeli isolation in the world,” Peace Now said.

Meretz politicians visited the site on Wednesday to better understand its geography.

Meretz Party chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said that approving construction in E1 was akin to a madman standing on a roof.

Gal-On said that she traveled with her faction to E1 to protest Netanyahu’s “price tag policies,” in a reference to attacks on Palestinians and their property by right-wing extremists.

“It’s in Israel’s interest to have a Palestinian state. We should see it as an opportunity, not as a threat,” she said.

Kashriel told The Jerusalem Post that objections to Jewish construction in E1 had more to do with a united or divided Jerusalem than the issue of Palestinian territorial contiguity.

Even with a built-up E1, the Palestinian state could run from Ramallah to the Dead Sea, he said.

His office is putting together promotional material in support of building in E1, which it plans to send to ambassadors stationed in Israel as well as to Israeli parliamentarians so they can better understand the issue.
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