Israel is not going ahead with preliminary planning procedures for 24,000 homes beyond the Green Line, including 1,200 units in Ma’aleh Adumim’s E1 area linking it with Jerusalem, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday.
The remarks came as the Palestinians threatened to walk away from the current talks if the plans go forward, and in response to a Yediot Aharonot report on Friday asserting that the planning process was going ahead and that tenders for the projects were going to close this week, despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s objections.
Channel 2 reported Sunday that the Palestinian Authority turned directly to US Secretary of State John Kerry, due here later this week, and threatened that if the tenders were not canceled and Israel continued with the projects, it would bolt the talks.
Some three weeks ago, in the midst of Israel’s intense lobbying efforts against an interim agreement between the world powers and Iran, and just a week after Kerry slammed the settlements as “illegitimate” during a visit here, Peace Now reported that the Construction and Housing Ministry had issued the tenders for preliminary planning work.
The reports brought instant international condemnation, including from Washington, and Netanyahu directed Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) to “reconsider” the plans.
Netanyahu said at the time the announcement of the preliminary planning was without any statutory standing, would do nothing to promote settlement building, 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.
The Yediot report, however, indicated that Netanyahu’s directives were not being honored. An official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that the Yediot story was incorrect.
“The Prime Minister’s instruction not to advance preliminary procedures for planning as published on November 12 in Judea, Samaria and E1 is being fulfilled,” he said. “Following an additional inquiry Saturday evening, we reaffirm that the procedures there are not being advanced.”
The call for the tenders, however, can still be found on the website of the Government Procurement Administration and there are no obvious signs that the process has been frozen.
A government source told The Jerusalem Post that there were bureaucratic issues that had temporarily delayed the formal elimination of the tenders, but that obviously the prime minister’s wishes would be obeyed.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the negotiations with the Palestinians, related to the issue on Saturday night during a Channel 2 interview.
“The Israeli government committed itself, and I announced this in the name of the prime minister, that these tenders publisher by the Ministry of Construction and Housing were halted and not moving forward,” Livni said. “If the Housing and Construction minister wants to wink at his voters, he cannot do that at the expense of the trust in the word of the government and State of Israel. This is our obligation as a state and government to the United States.”
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.