Israel bows to US pressure, won’t advance east Jerusalem Atarot project

The controversial east Jerusalem project of 9,000 new homes won't be advanced at this time, despite recent advancements in local planning committees.

 The site of the Atarot project, next to the security barrier and the apartments of Kafr Akab. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The site of the Atarot project, next to the security barrier and the apartments of Kafr Akab.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Israel has assured the United States that the controversial east Jerusalem project of 9,000 new homes won’t be advanced at this time, despite the boost it received Wednesday from a local planning committee.

This marks the first time since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took office in June that he has appeared to acquiesce to US pressure to hold off on Jewish construction over the pre-1967 lines.

The project was next scheduled to go before the Interior Ministry District Planning Committee, which on December 6 is set to decide whether the plan can be deposited. It's a move the would allow the committee to prepare the plan for final approval.

But the bureaucratic process is a protracted one and would also include an objections PHASE before another meeting can be held to allow for its final approval.

News of Israel’s decision to tell the US the project would not move forward was first reported by The Jerusalem Post’s sister site Walla and confirmed by the Post.

A diplomatic official said Thursday that once the District Planning Committee approves the project, “it won’t reach the upper echelon for another year.”

 European Union Representative to the Palestinian Authority Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff is seen at Atarot, on November 22, 2021. (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF) European Union Representative to the Palestinian Authority Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff is seen at Atarot, on November 22, 2021. (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Another source confirmed that the Israeli had indeed told the US that the project would not be advanced.

According to Hagit Ofran of the left-wing group Peace Now, which opposes the plan, the December 6 meeting is no longer listed on the Interior Ministry’s website. She provided the paper with a screenshot of where the meeting had been posted and then removed.

The Interior Ministry said it would respond to queries on the matter on Sunday, after checking with relevant officials.

The US, the international community and the Palestinian Authority fear that the plan would drive a wedge between east Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods. This would make it impossible for east Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state in any two-state resolution to the conflict.

The Biden administration has been clear that it opposes all settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem, although it did not officially respond to Wednesday’s advancement of the project.  

Bennett believes that Israel has the right to build Jewish homes anywhere in its united capital. But like most topics, not all the parties in the government have a common stance on Jerusalem.

According to Peace Now, Israel’s Construction and Housing Committee in 2015 allocated NIS 2 million to design the Atarot project, which will also include commercial centers, hotels, parks and schools.

In February 2020, the ministry submitted the plan to the Jerusalem Municipality, which this week recommended that it be deposited with the District Planning Committee.

The project is slated to be built on the site of the former Kalandiya Airport, which operated from 1924 to 2000. It is located near Ramallah, between Route 443 and the Kalandiya crossing. It is also located next to the security barrier and the east Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Kafr Akab.