An Israeli state planning committee has delayed granting further approval of a major settlement project in occupied East Jerusalem that has drawn American concern along with Palestinian condemnation.
The proposal that envisages building up to 9,000 homes for Jewish settlers, a move that would cement more occupied West Bank lands within Israel’s municipal boundaries for Jerusalem, received preliminary approval last month.
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A Jerusalem district planning and building committee has now decided against moving forward, citing the need for an environmental study, according to a statement from Israel’s Planning Administration. No timeline for further discussion was given.
Critics have contended that the proposed construction between East Jerusalem and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank would further dim any Palestinian hopes for a future state.
“We hope the government takes advantage of the time to reexamine the damage the plan has on the chance for peace, the development of Jerusalem, and Israel’s relations with the United States,” said Israel’s Peace Now organisation, which monitors and opposes Jewish settlement on occupied land.
The site once housed an airport and is known to Israelis as Atarot. The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned the settlement plan as a bid to finalise “the separation of Jerusalem from our outlying Palestinian area”.
The Jerusalem municipal committee approved the project on November 24, drawing Israeli media speculation that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett could move slowly towards final approval to avoid friction with Washington about settlement issues.
‘Advancing settlement activity’
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. The vision for an independent Palestinian state generally includes the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Most world powers deem Israeli settlements in occupied territory illegal.
On Sunday, the Atarot project was discussed in a call between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, an Israeli statement said, without giving details.
A Department of State spokesperson said Blinken urged Israel and the Palestinians to refrain from any unilateral steps and noted “advancing settlement activity” could undercut any efforts to negotiate a two-state solution to their conflict.
About 700,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem has continued under every Israeli government since 1967.
However, construction accelerated in the last few years under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with a significant boom during Donald Trump’s US administration, which Palestinians accused of egregious pro-Israel bias.