Watchdog: Israel freezes plan for east Jerusalem settlement

JERUSALEM (AP) — Jerusalem municipal officials on Monday froze plans to build a large Jewish settlement at an abandoned airport in east Jerusalem, a monitoring group announced.

The decision to halt the Atarot settlement plan came in the wake of heavy U.S. opposition to the project.

Plans for the settlement called for building 9,000 housing units marketed to ultra-Orthodox Jews in an open area next to three densely populated Palestinian communities, one of which is behind Israel’s controversial separation barrier.

Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said Monday that the Jerusalem district planning committee that was to approve the plan instead decided to put it on hold, saying an environmental survey should first be conducted.

“Let’s hope they will use the time to understand how illogical this plan is for the development of Jerusalem and how much it damages the chances for peace,” said Ofran, who attended the meeting.

There was no immediate comment from city officials. But earlier Monday, Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, indicated the Israeli government is in no hurry to give final approval to the plan.

Speaking to reporters, Lapid said the plan requires approval by the national government and needs “full consensus” of the various parties in the coalition. “This will be dealt with at the national level and we know how to deal with it. It is a process and will make sure it doesn’t turn into a conflict with the administration,” he said.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Israel also seized in that war.

Israel views all of Jerusalem as its unified capital and says it needs to build housing to address the needs of a growing population.

The Palestinians view the continual expansion of Israeli settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace, a position with wide international support. The Atarot project is considered especially damaging because it lies in the heart of a Palestinian population center.

The Biden administration has repeatedly criticized settlement construction, saying it hinders the eventual resumption of the peace process, but Israel has continued to advance settlement plans.

More than 200,000 Israeli settlers live in east Jerusalem and nearly 500,000 live in settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank. Israel’s current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is a strong supporter of settlements and is opposed to Palestinian statehood.

There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade.

FILE – A woman and her child walk on a pedestrian ramp to the Qalandia checkpoint to the West Bank from Jerusalem, next to the site where Israel planned to build a massive Jewish settlement on the site of a long-abandoned airport, Nov. 24, 2021. An Israeli monitoring group said Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, that Jerusalem municipal officials have frozen plans to build a large Jewish settlement at the abandoned airport in east Jerusalem in the wake of heavy U.S. opposition to the project. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

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