Peace Now: Israel seeking to revive E1 construction plans
According to NGO, Housing Ministry hires architects to prepare new blueprints for the construction of 55,548 Jewish homes in the West Bank, including two new settlements, 8,300 of which would be in area cutting East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
Israel is working to revive and extend plans for new Jewish settler homes in the contentious area of the West Bank known as E1, settler watchdog Peace Now said in a report released on Monday.
In a report it said was based on government data obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, the group said the Ministry of Construction and Housing was seeking to build 55,548 units in the West Bank — including two new settlements — of which 8,372 homes would be in E1.
E1 and the adjacent Ma'ale Adumim settlement form an Israeli buffer east of Jerusalem that the Palestinians say would divide the West Bank and badly hurt the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.
“The area of Ma'ale Adumim and E1 is one of the most sensitive areas in terms of the chances for two state solution,” Peace Now wrote.
“For these reasons, whenever an Israeli leader tries to promote the plans in E1, the international community strongly condemns them.”
The United States, the United Nations and the European Union oppose all Israeli settlement building but have voiced particular concern about plans for E1.
The Housing Ministry said the plans were drawn up in 2012-13, and last year, it had paid off outstanding contracts with design teams.
"During 2015 there were no activities whatsoever on site E1," it said. "At no time did the office proceed with housing plans on said site."
In 2013, faced with international pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vetoed construction of some 1,200 homes there but Peace Now said the Housing Ministry has hired architects to prepare fresh blueprints.
“This planning, which contradicts any possible commitment to a two-state solution, continues,” said Monday’s report, although it added that the plans could be years from fruition.
“They must be approved by the defense minister and then go through the approval process of the Planning Authority,” the English-language report said.
The Peace Now report said more than 55,000 settlement homes are in various stages of planning. Although most of them would take years to be approved, it said nearly 4,000 could be built in the near future.
An Israeli government official stressed the E1 plan is only hypothetical, and no decisions to build have been made.
But Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said the plans nonetheless reflected a vision. "If it wasn't significant, why do it at all," she said.
Many of the plans took place under former Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a strong advocate of the settler movement. Peace Now called on the current Housing Minister, Yoav Galant, who took office earlier this year, to cancel the plans.
US-backed peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel collapsed in April 2014 amid bitter mutual recriminations.
A chief grievance of the Palestinians was settlement building on land they claim for a future state.
“The continued settlement growth raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions and will only make separating from the Palestinians much more difficult,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech in Washington on December 6.
Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed East Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community.
Today, some 380,000 Israelis live in 135 West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 in East Jerusalem.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.