JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of his security cabinet on Sunday that he has decided to remove all limits on advancing construction programs in eastern Jerusalem.
According to two senior officials quoted by Israeli newspaper Haaretz who were updated on the content of the meeting, which was not open to the media, Netanyahu also plans to promote more building in the settlement blocs – heavily populated neighborhoods and communities across the 1967 Green Line that Israel intends to retain in any future agreement with the Palestinians.
According to the paper, the prime minister’s decision was one of the factors that convinced the Jewish Home party, which flanks Netanyahu’s Likud from the right, to postpone a vote on a bill it is championing to annex Ma’ale Adumim, the largest settlement bloc.
According to unnamed diplomatic officials, Netanyahu told the ministers he supported keeping Ma’ale Adumim under Israeli sovereignty and said it “was clear to everyone that this will happen in any future agreement. Nevertheless, it is important not to surprise the new administration in the US only days after it enters office.”
Netanyahu, the official said, told the ministers that in his vision all Israeli communities in the West Bank will remain under Israeli sovereignty.
In March 2010, a municipal-level committee issued a statement on the approval of construction plans in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. The announcement was made just as then-vice president Joe Biden was touching down in Israel and created friction between Israel and the US.
Since that incident, the Prime Minister’s Office has been more intimately involved with the work of municipal planning committees in Jerusalem, where seemingly local decisions may have international diplomatic ramifications.
The committees worked under severe government limitations, which Netanyahu is now planning to remove.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, according to Haaretz, supported postponing a vote on the bill, saying the Trump administration may view a vote at this time as a decision made behind the US’s back.
“Why do we need this now? I think it’s best we postpone discussion on this subject,” Kahlon said. Other cabinet ministers joined Kahlon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party and the main proponent of the bill, eventually said he accepted that position.
Political analysts in Israel said Netanyahu’s move was a quid pro quo with Bennett, and the removal of limitations on construction is intended to pacify Jewish Home and make it drop its insistence on the bill, which it has been pushing for weeks.
The local council on planning and construction in the Jerusalem municipality announced on Sunday that it was giving building permits to 566 housing units in Ramat Shlomo and Ramot, another neighborhood across the Green Line, immediately after the government’s announcement on removing limitations.