Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank - E1
A view of the Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, Jan. 28, 2020.(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu crossed a diplomatic redline Tuesday when he announced that he would advance plans for the construction of 3,500 homes in an undeveloped area of Ma’aleh Adumim known as E1.

The settlement, the third largest Jewish West Bank city, is located just east of Jerusalem. Israel considers Ma’aleh Adumim and the E1 section as essential to safeguard a unified Jerusalem.

“We are building up Jerusalem and the outskirts of Jerusalem,” Netanyahu told a largely right-wing crowd at the annual Besheva conference in Jerusalem.

“I gave an immediate directive, to deposit plans to build of 3,500 housing units in E1,” Netanyahu said to audience applause.

“This thing has been frozen,” Netanyahu said, adding that E1 building has “enormous significance” and “I believe that everyone here understands what that is.”

Netanyahu also confirmed that a tender had been published this week for 1,077 homes for another new Jewish east Jerusalem neighborhood, called Givat Hamatos, in the south part of the capital not far from the PA-controlled city Bethlehem in area A of the West Bank.

Both projects had been diplomatically sensitive because the Palestinians and much of the international community consider that they harm the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.

Under former President Barack Obama, the US had pressured Israel not to advance either project. The E1 neighbourhood, first put forward by former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, has been viewed as particularly sensitive.

Every prime minister since Rabin has promised to build there and no one ever has. apart from an isolated police station atop the hill of E1. Netanyahu renewed his E1 pledge in 2012, in response to the UN General’s Assembly decision to upgrade the Palestinian status to that of a non-member state, a move that was considered to be a de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.

But nothing ever came of that pledge, which was similarly made during an election period. At that time, Netanyahu was under pressure from the former Obama administration not to make a move on E1.

It is presumed that the Trump administration has no issue with E1 construction, given that it has already stated that Israel can apply sovereignty to all the settlements, simply not at this time. It has been presumed that this includes E1, which is located within Ma’aleh Adumim’s municipal boundaries.

MAYOR BENNY KASHRIEL of Ma’aleh Adumim has long argued that the area is needed to allow for population growth in his city of some 38,000 people.

“This is a celebratory day for Ma’aleh Adumim,” a jubilant Kashriel told The Jerusalem Post. “Building in E1 is a housing solution for many young couples. “It promises territorial contiguity with Jerusalem,” he added. Kashriel said that he believes Netanyahu because the professional staff has already been ordered to work on submission of the plans to the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria.

Yesha Council head David Elhayani who is also heads the Jordan Valley Regional Council, welcomed Netanyahu’s “important decision” which he said would enable a “broad and strategic” link between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.