Netanyahu advances plans for 3,500 settler homes in West Bank’s E1

"We are building up Jerusalem and the outskirts of Jerusalem. I gave an immediate directive, to deposit plans to build 3500 housing units in E1," the prime minister said.

A view of the Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, Jan. 28, 2020.  (photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
A view of the Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, Jan. 28, 2020.
(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu crossed a diplomatic redline Tuesday when he announced he would advance plans for the construction of 3,500 homes in an undeveloped area of Ma’aleh Adumim known as E1.
The settlement, the third largest Jewish West Bank city, is located just east of Jerusalem. Israel considers Ma’aleh Adumim and the E1 section essential to safeguard a unified Jerusalem.
“We are building up Jerusalem and the outskirts of Jerusalem,” Netanyahu told a largely right-wing crowd at the annual Besheva conference in Jerusalem.
“I gave an immediate directive, to deposit plans to build of 3,500 housing units in E1,” he said to applause.
“This thing has been frozen,” Netanyahu said, adding that E1 building has “enormous significance,” and “I believe that everyone here understands what that is.”
Netanyahu also confirmed that a tender had been published this week for 1,077 homes for a new Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem, called Givat Hamatos, in the south part of the capital not far from PA-controlled Bethlehem in area A of the West Bank.
Both projects had been diplomatically sensitive because the Palestinians and much of the international community believe they harm the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
Under former president Barack Obama, the US pressured Israel not to advance either project. The E1 neighborhood, first put forward by former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, has been viewed as particularly sensitive.
Every prime minister since Rabin has promised to build there, but no one ever has, apart from an isolated police station atop the hill of E1. Netanyahu renewed his E1 pledge in 2012 in response to a UN General Assembly decision to upgrade Palestinian status to that of a nonmember state, a move that was considered to be a de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.
But nothing ever came of that pledge, which was similarly made during an election period. At that time, Netanyahu was under pressure from the former Obama administration not to make a move on E1.
The Trump administration presumably has no issue with E1 construction, given that it has already said Israel can apply sovereignty to all the settlements, simply not at this time. This presumably includes E1, which is located within Ma’aleh Adumim’s municipal boundaries.
MA’ALEH ADUMIM Mayor Benny Kashriel has long argued that the area is needed to allow for population growth in his city of some 38,000 people.
“This is a celebratory day for Ma’aleh Adumim,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “Building in E1 is a housing solution for many young couples... It promises territorial contiguity with Jerusalem.”
Kashriel said he believes Netanyahu because the professional staff has already been ordered to work on submission of the plans to the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria.
Yesha Council head David Elhayani, who is also Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman, welcomed Netanyahu’s “important decision,” which he said would enable a “broad and strategic” link between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.
Palestinian officials on Tuesday condemned the E1 project and warned that Israeli policies would lead to further tensions with the Palestinians.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat tweeted about the E1 project: “If carried out, it is the end of two states.”
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said Netanyahu’s announcement “is the result of the biased and dangerous American policy in favor of Israeli occupation.”
Netanyahu’s decision, he said, “challenges the statement that was passed unanimously on Monday by the UN Security Council to refrain from undermining the viability of the two-state solution.”
Abu Rudaineh warned the Israeli government against continuing “with this escalated policy that will not bring security and stability to anyone but, rather, increase tension and violence in the region.”
On February 24, the Security Council heard a briefing by Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, on the latest developments concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a closed-door meeting, Security Council members reiterated their support for a negotiated two-state solution, drawing applause from the PA leadership in the West Bank, Abu Rudaineh said.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi denounced the announcement as a “premeditated and clear step that deals a final and decisive blow to the practicability of the two-state solution formula and leaves no room for doubt about Israel’s agenda for permanent occupation.”
Noting that the Israeli government had recently announced plans to build new housing units in Jerusalem, she said: “These announcements specifically target areas in and around occupied Jerusalem. They effectively and practically encircle the occupied capital and carve it out of the occupied Palestinian territory while dividing the rest of the West Bank into two separate parts.”
ASHRAWI CONDEMNED the US administration for supporting the actions and policies of the Israeli government.
“With the active participation and support of the current US administration, Israel is unilaterally and illegally annexing Palestinian territory and trampling on the Palestinian people’s most basic rights,” she said in a statement. “These announcements are the practical translation of an extremist, ideologically driven and dangerous right-wing agenda that trounces Palestinian human rights and threatens to unravel the international order in favor of unilateralism, exceptionalism and political bullying.”
The PA Foreign Ministry said in response to Netanyahu’s announcement that it believes the plan “is an implementation of the terms of the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ to create new facts on the ground under the American umbrella and to undermine any opportunity to create a contiguous Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
At the end of Monday’s monthly Security Council meeting, Ambassador Marc Pecsteen, Belgian’s permanent representative to the UN, read out informal comments with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such a statement does not have the same status as a joint statement from the Security Council.
Pecsteen said council members “reiterated their support for a negotiated two-state solution, recalling previous relevant UN resolutions and in accordance with international law, where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.”
UNSC members “reaffirmed that all parties should refrain from undermining the viability of the two-state solution in order to maintain the prospects for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace,” he said.
“Furthermore, council members expressed trade concern about the acts of violence against civilians. Council members stressed the need to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final-status issues in the Middle East peace process,” Pecsteen said.
At Tuesday’s opening of the high-level portion of the UN Human Rights Council’s 43rd session in Geneva, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn denounced “Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including east Jerusalem. Colonization on settlements, demolitions, confiscations and forced displacement are all prohibited in international law, notably by the 4th Geneva convention.”
Asselborn, who has been pushing the EU for a response to any pending Israeli annexation plans, said: “We cannot agree with initiatives which are not in line with international law, nor can we accept that parts of Palestinian territory be annexed... This is a new and flagrant violation of international law.”
Separately, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi met with his German counterpart, Heiko Maas. After the meeting, he said: “We agree that a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state as a result of negotiations remains the only path to achieve peace in the Middle East.”