Israel will exclude a strategic area just outside Jerusalem from plans for settlement building because of its political sensitivity, a government official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a freeze on even preliminary preparations for new homes in a West Bank project known as E1, according to an official in his office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s delicacy.
Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group, said in a report today that the government has plans to erect almost 24,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. That includes 1,200 in the E1 project, which would develop a corridor linking east Jerusalem and the nearby Maaleh Adumim settlement. Palestinians say E1 would drive a wedge between the West Bank’s northern and southern flanks, making it difficult for them to create a viable state.
“The important headline is that Netanyahu is not stopping settlements, said Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior Palestinian official. He called the freezing of plans for E1 a ‘‘game.’’
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week faulted Israel for pursuing settlement plans in the West Bank and east Jerusalem while negotiating peace with the Palestinians, who say such building should be frozen. The two sides resumed talks in July after a three-year breakdown, and accuse each other of negotiating in bad faith.
The U.S., which along with most other countries considers the territories to be occupied and opposes settlement construction, has applied pressure to prevent development of the E1 project, which has been held up for years.
The U.S. is seeking further clarification from Israel, about settlement plans, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a briefing in Washington.
About 550,000 Israelis live on the territories, which were captured in 1967, and the Palestinians say their growing numbers are cementing Israel’s hold. In recent weeks, Israeli officials have announced plans for thousands of new apartments.
The official in Netanyahu’s office said the building proposals highlighted by Peace Now are a yearly bureaucratic exercise in long-term planning that is not about actual construction.
The activist group acknowledged that no construction is imminent. It said in today’s report that the plans still undermine peace talks, because they reveal ‘‘a government that is actively engaged in long-term planning that assumes permanent Israeli control of areas that Israel cannot seriously expect to retain in any negotiated agreement.”
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