Israeli authorities announced on Monday that they had postponed a hearing to advance a controversial settlement project in an area of the West Bank that critics say is essential for a future Palestinian state.
The session of the senior planning subcommittee of the Civil Administration – the Department of Defense body that authorizes the construction of settlements – was due to take place on July 18, just four days after the US president’s trip. Joe Biden in Israel and the West Bank.
The meeting, in which the panel was to hear objections to a massive housing project in the area known as E-1, has been rescheduled for September 12.
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Construction project in Area E-1 would connect Jerusalem to a major eastern settlement, Maale Adumim, while bisecting the West Bank and making it almost impossible to create a contiguous Palestinian state with Jerusalem -Is as capital, according to critics.
The project was first proposed almost twenty years ago, but it was repeatedly abandoned following international pressure.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had resurrected the plan during the 2020 election campaign, asking that it be submitted to the relevant planning authorities before possible final approval.
The project, which provides 3,412 housing units, is currently in the public objection hearing stage, which requires the Civil Administration’s planning subcommittee to consider objections.
A prominent group of Palestinian lawyers as well as several Israeli rights groups have filed lawsuits against the project, but hearings have been repeatedly postponed until last year. A final hearing had been scheduled for January, but it was taken off the agenda.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said in March that he had pressured the Israeli government to drop the project.
If the legal objections against the E1 plan are cleared, as is often the case, the project will still require several more approvals before work can begin – a process that typically takes months or even years.
But each advance of these plans considerably complicates the chances of withdrawal and therefore raises the concern of opponents of the settlement company.
This had been the case since the Ministry of Defense announced in May that it would hold the final hearing on objections to the E1 project on July 18.
While the hearing was supposed to take place a month after Biden’s visit to the country, postponing that visit to July 13 would have meant a possible move forward on the project just days after the president’s departure.
While the White House opposes the plan in principle, it was particularly concerned about the timing of the approval and pressured Israel to cancel the July 18 session, according to two Israeli and US officials.
Biden’s last visit to Israel was in 2010, when he was vice president. This trip was marred by the announcement of an Israeli project in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Biden erupted at the time, saying in a statement that it “undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions I have had here in Israel. »