It warned against Israeli attempts to ‘circumvent’ future pressure, as official approval has only formally been postponed, not canceled.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
The Palestinian Authority (PA) ‘welcomed’ Tuesday the U.S. pressure put on Israel to suspend construction plans for a new neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem.
In a statement, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said it “welcomes…the American pressure to stop settlement construction on the land of Qalandia Airport,” considering it “an important practical step in the right direction towards exerting more international efforts to make confidence-building measures succeed” so that a “real peace process” can be launched between Israel and the PA.
On Monday, the Israeli Interior Ministry’s District Planning Committee refused to immediately approve the deposit of the building plan for a new neighborhood in the area of what is called the Atarot airport in Hebrew.
In a short statement, the committee said that a study should first be completed of the possible negative impact on the environment from the construction of the 9,000 homes, commercial buildings, hotels and green spaces envisioned in the plan. This, despite also stating that “The committee was impressed by the plan’s proper utilization of land reserves that have been unused to date.”
The airport, which was shut down in 2000 due to the Second Intifada, is within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, and is a huge land reserve of some 307 acres that is needed to help solve the capital’s housing crisis. Since it is in the part of the city annexed by Israel after the Six Day War, President Joe Biden, along with most of the international community, considers it “occupied” territory where Jews should not live until its final status has been settled through negotiations.
Throughout his 40-year political career, Biden has been an opponent of the settlement project in Judea and Samaria, calling it an obstacle to peace, and his administration has expressed its disapproval of building Jewish homes there numerous times.
The PA statement went on to caution against “Israel’s misleading campaigns regarding its settlement projects in general and at Qalandia Airport in particular,” noting that the planning committee had postponed its approval rather than quashing the plan altogether. It called the move “a familiar and common Israeli attempt to absorb and circumvent international and American pressure,” pointing out that infrastructure work for the new neighborhood is still going on.
To flesh out its warning, the statement also referred to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s comment in his faction meeting Monday that the government would “make sure” that the construction of Atarot “does not turn into a confrontation with the American government.” The ministry said that this proved that Israel has no intention of cancelling the project, and that “the occupying state is adhering to [its plan] to separate Jerusalem from its Palestinian surroundings from the northern side” so as to block the possibility of a “two-state solution as an Israeli strategic position.”
The Jerusalem city council’s Planning and Building Committee gave initial approval for the new neighborhood on November 24.
Almost immediately, reports began surfacing that Prime Minister Bennett had assured the Biden administration that the project would not be advanced at this time. A senior Israeli official rejected this assertion, telling Arutz 7 the next day that Bennett had merely told the Americans that the entire permit process is a long one and it would take at least a year before all the preliminary technicalities were completed.