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Israel reduced settler housing plans by 39% to appease US, source says

CM 12/08/2021

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Israel reduced by 39% the number of West Bank settler homes the Civil Administration plans to advance next week for authorization with an eye toward appeasing US President Joe Biden’s administration, which opposes such activity.
initial intention was to advance plans for 3,623 homes, but for diplomatic reasons 1,400 units were dropped from the agenda of the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria, a settler source told The Jerusalem Post.
The source added that, with an eye to Washington, council plans to advance 2,223 new settler homes was deliberately linked to an unusual Civil Administration hearing next week on the authorization of 863 Palestinian homes in Area C of the West Bank.
“We have to be sensitive to the Americans,” a senior diplomatic source said in explaining the need for a balanced approach on Area C housing.

In the end there is a balanced package that shows that the council is routinely meeting and disproves any claims that there is a “construction freeze,” the senior diplomatic source said. 
A reasonable amount of Jewish homes will be built, but at the same time Israel has addressed an issue that  concerns the US, which is construction for the Palestinians in Area C, the source added.
The State Department, however, still attacked the move.
“We believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and fundamentally undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” a State Department official told the Post.
“This certainly includes settlement activity which will make achieving a two-state solution much more difficult.  It’s critical to advance steps that will promote calm and reduce tensions,” the official added.
Both plans were simultaneously placed on the council’s agenda on Wednesday in what looked like the start of a new paradigm for settlement housing approvals, which would include units for both Jews and Palestinians in Area C.
It’s almost an exact duplicate of the actions taken by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he convened the council in January in the waning days of former US president Donald Trump’s administration. At that time the council advanced plans for 780 settler homes as well as a plan that allowed for 140 Palestinian homes in Area C, which is under IDF military and civilian control.
Netanyahu at the time would have also had to keep Biden in mind, given that he was days away from inauguration.
The announcement of the housing plans comes in advance of Bennett’s upcoming meeting with Biden. But it also follows an unusual amount of conversations between Israeli and US officials in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on the agenda.
Eyal Hulata, national security adviser-designate, and Shimrit Meir, foreign policy adviser to the prime minister, were in Washington earlier this month. This week, CIA Director William Burns was in Israel, where he met with both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
A source said that Israel notified the US of the settler housing plans in advance and that Gantz has spoken with the Palestinians.
A senior Israeli source said that in conversations with the US had not involved nitty gritty details about the number of units that would be advanced. Israel developed a model of how to move forward with settlement construction independently. 
“We are managing this ourselves and taking everyone into consideration,” the source said.
“We are showing that we have a very responsible and balanced policy,” the source added. 
The Trump administration which supported settlement has been replaced with a government that no longer supports such activity, the senior diplomatic source said.
“We have to figure out how to allow building while keeping up relations for the visit to the US and coordination on Iran,” the source added.
But despite the assurances that settlement activity would continue Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a press conference in Morocco on Thursday hinted that the authorization of settlement plans should be limited to natural growth.
In the history of the settlement movement, population growth has exceeded natural growth, although as the growth rate drops, it becomes increasingly reliant on it. So limiting development to natural growth would be a constriction of settlement expansion.
The “natural growth” terminology is a throwback to the Obama and Bush administrations.
Trump had largely not constrained settlement growth during his administration.
Settler leaders noted the policy change and held two emergency meetings: one on Wednesday night and another on Thursday, when the Yesha Council held a meeting in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Yesha Council head David Elhayani said that “when the government makes the correlation between Israeli and Palestinians building in Area C” then a red line has been crossed.
“It gives a message to the Palestinians that if you build in Area C, we will authorize it,” Elhayani said.
Settler leaders and the Israeli Right hold that all of Area C should be included within Israel’s sovereign borders. The Palestinians in turn hold that all of Area C should be part of their future state. Building is seen as one of the most significant ways to preserve that territory.
Out of the 2,223 settler homes that will be advanced, 1,315 will be deposited for further discussion. This include 399 homes in the Revava settlement, 377 in Kedumim, 156 in Givat Ze’ev, 100 in Elon Moreh, 100 in Sansana, 86 in Ofarim, 45 in Vered Yeriho, 27 in Karnei Shomron, 18 in Alon Shvut and seven in Hermesh.
Another 908 will be validated for final approval. This includes 292 in the Kfar Etzion settlement, 286 in Har Bracha, 105 in Alon Shvut, 83 in Karnei Shomron, 58 in Beit El, 42 in Givat Ze’ev, 28 in Barkan, 14 in Ma’aleh Michmash.
The Palestinian plans for the Civil Administration, which are set for debate next week, include 150 units at al-Masara near Bethlehem and 50 in Khirbat Zakariya in the Gush Etzion region. Three housing approvals in the area of Jenin include 270 units in Bir al-Basha, 233 in al-Masqufa and 160 in Khirbat Aaba.
Omri Nahmias contributed to this report.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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