Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments on 25 February 2020 that he gave a directive to deposit plans for 3,500 units in E1 imperils the two-state solution and crosses a red line on among Israel’s closest allies. E1 is the only land corridor connecting the northern and southern West Bank. Building in E1 would sever this territorial connection, torpedoing the possibility for a viable Palestinian state if Israel insists on retaining the land. Such a scenario is likely, considering that E1 would be a neighborhood of tens of thousands connecting Maale Adumim with Jerusalem.
Peace Now: “Netanyahu is selling Israel’s national interests and drags us into the reality of a bi-national state, all to curry favor among a settler minority. Last time they tried to promote construction in E1 the world was shaken. This is a strategic area for the two-state, solution and building a settlement in E1 means that Israel is officially choosing to risk perpetual conflict instead of resolving it. It is no less than a national disaster that must be stopped before it is too late.”
The plans to establish a huge settlement in E1 were always considered a lethal blow for peace and therefore Israeli governments refrained from advancing the plans. The first move toward construction in E1 was done by the Sharon Government in 2004, when a police station started to be built in E1 area along with infrastructure and roads. After that, in December 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu approved to advance plans for around 3,500 units in E1 and the plans were approved for depositing by the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration. Since then the plans were put on hold and today Netanyahu okayed their promotion.
The plans are:
Plan No. 420/4/7 – for 1,228 units; and
Plan No. 420/4/7 – for 1,228 units; and
Plan No 420/4/10 – for 2,184 units
(Total of 3,412 units).
The next step that was now approved is the publication of the plans for depositing – a stage in which an official announcement is published as an advertisement in the newspapers allowing the public to file objections to the deposited plan within 60 days. After that, the planning committee can convene to hear and discuss any objections filed. After that, the next planning phase is the approval of the plan for validation by the Higher Planning Council, and after that, the publication of the plan as valid. The whole depositing & objections stage and the approval for validation could take several months. And then when the plan is valid, the government can issue tenders (a call for proposals to buy the rights to build), after which the winning bidders can issue construction permits and start to work. So, theoretically if not stopped, works on the ground could start within 2 years. Read more on the planning stages here.
This move to promote settlement units in E1 should be understood in the context of government actions to promote settlement construction in Givat Hamatos and Har Homa to sever the Bethlehem-Jerusalem continuum, and the early promotion of a plan to turn the decommissioned Atarot Airport into a new Jerusalem settlement that would work toward severing the Ramallah-Jerusalem continuum. With E1 added to the mix, the pattern of severing the East Jerusalem and the West Bank is a clear policy direction of this government.
While this announcement may be connected to the upcoming election, Netanyahu should be taken at his word and his comments should not be written off as campaign bluster. Indeed just this week he fulfilled a promise he made the week prior to publish tenders in Givat HaMatos, another area that was seen as a red line by the international community.
It is likely that if moving on E1 is not met with deterring action domestically or abroad then it will further encourage settlement activity, seeing as E1 is the most recognized red line on settlement construction. The US, which has traditionally played a large role in deterring activity in E1, will likely not do so now with its current administration. Indeed, the Trump Plan envisions E1 as part of Israel, and allows for Israeli annexation pending coordination with the US and not negotiations with the Palestinians.
Finally, some may argue that a simply tunnel can connect the northern and southern West Bank if Israel was to build and retain E1. However, transpirational contiguity does not qualify as territorial contiguity, a key ingredient for a viable state. A viable state needs territorial contiguity to provide for resources and natural growth, especially around Palestinian Jerusalem and its suburbs. One highway, even a large one, would also not be sufficient for traffic between the northern and southern halves of the West Bank. For more on the difference between territorial and transportational contiguity, as well as other aspects on how building up E1 would be a disaster, read Americans for Peace Now’s “Settlements in Focus” analysis in cooperation with Peace Now’s Settlement Watch department here.