Dangerous Developments towards Construction in E-1

What happened?

  • For the first time since the E-1 plan was first put on the table in 1996, the Government of Israel is now taking serious steps towards its implementation.
  • On October 4, the Sub-Committee on Objections of the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration of the West Bank conducted hearings on the objections to the E-1 settlement plan, and is scheduled to hold the second and final hearing on October 18.
  • This is a critical phase towards the construction of E-1: these hearings are one of the last stages of the planning process prior to the final statutory approval of the plan by the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration. After the hearings, the Subcommittee on Objections submits the Plan to the Higher Planning Council and its recommendations for final approval. While the decision to convene the hearings and accept or reject objections require no Ministerial approval, the decision to convene the Higher Planning Council and the final approval of the plan require the signature of the Minister of Defense. Once the plan is approved, tenders can be published and awarded and building can commence.
  • This is a step so controversial that in the 25 years since the E-1 plan has been under consideration, no Israeli government, including those headed by Netanyahu under President Trump, have dared to take significant steps towards its implementation.

 

Why is E-1 so important?

  • Location and size – E-1 is a major West Bank settlement planned for a large area of land on East Jerusalem’s northeastern flank (outside the city’s municipal borders, in C area). It totals 12.5 sq.km. located to the east of East Jerusalem and to the west of the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. E-1 is a major contribution to the creations of three large settlement blocs surrounding Jerusalem in its environs in the West Bank: from E-1 and Maale Adumim and the bluffs overlooking the Jordan river valley to the east, to the Ramot -Givat Zeev “bloc” in northwest of Jerusalem and the Etzion bloc to the south. The plan includes the construction of approximately 3500 units (Plan No. 420/4/7 – for 1,228 units; and Plan No 420/4/10 – for 2,184 units). As detailed below, both the location and size of E-1 makes it the most devastating settlement scheme in the West Bank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Geo-political ramifications:
    • Disconnecting East Jerusalem from the West Bank: the construction of E-1 would detach Palestinian East Jerusalem from its environs in the West Bank, exacerbating the fragmentation of the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and their connection to the West Bank. It would therefore further undermine the possibility of integrating Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem into a  future Palestinian State.
    • By creating an Israeli-controlled wedge through the heart of the West Bank, it would also dismember it into two dis-contiguous cantons, one to the north including Ramallah and Nablus, and one to the south, with Bethlehem and Hebron.
    • Due to the grave ramifications of E-1 , both the US (until and possibly including Trump) and European capitals have been unequivocal in their opposition to the plan. Their robust engagement and firm position has been a key deterrent that prevented Netanyahu, and Sharon before him, from greenlighting E-1. Every US President since President Clinton has elicited a commitment from every Israeli Prime Minister, including Netanyahu, not to act on E-1, until Trump. Virtually all of the key heads of State in Europe have flagged E-1 as a red line, and informed successive Prime Ministers of their deep concerns over the scheme.

 

Key facts about the development of the E-1 plan are the following:

  • The Master Plan for E-1 was drafted and put on the table in 1996, during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister.
  • In 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon began to expedite both the planning process and construction of E-1. His government actually began construction without having secured the necessary statutory approval. However, President Bush and various European leaders directly intervened. Sharon’s then instructed that the planning and the construction be limited to the construction of the Police Headquarters for the West Bank as well as water, electricity and a network of roads. He ordered that all other planning and construction at E-1 be halted. No construction at E-1 has taken place since, nor have serious steps been taken towards the statutory approval of the plan.
  • In 2012, in retaliation for the extension of non-member status to Palestine at the UN, Netanyahu instructed the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration to deposit the plans for public review. However, in the wake of strong international engagement, Netanyahu immediately backtracked, and once again, the plans for E-1 were frozen.
  • On February 25, 2020, one week before the third national elections in one year, with Netanyahu fighting for his political survival, he againinstructed  to deposit the plan for public review. A number of objections were filed including the objections of Peace Now, Bimkom, the residents of El Eizariya and others.  However, once again, Netanyahu balked, and prior to leaving office, he never allowed any hearings to be scheduled.
  • Under the new Bennett government, the hearings on these objections were scheduled for October 4 and 18, 2021.
  • Efforts to implement E-1 and to consolidate a large settlement block on the eastern flank of East Jerusalem have been dovetailed with Israeli policies that seek to denationalize the Palestinian sector in East Jerusalem and systematic efforts to clear the area surrounding Maale Adumim and E-1 of Bedouins who have lived there for many decades, including repeated demolitions of their property (for more see here and here). The most notorious scheme to demolish a Bedouin hamlet and forcibly relocate its residents is Khan al Ahmar.

 

What happens next?

If the hearings proceed, the rejection of the objections to the plan by the Sub-Committee on Objections is a foregone conclusion and it will recommend the approval of the plan, perhaps with some marginal modifications. Both the convening of the Higher Planning Council and the final approval of the plan will then require the signature of the Minister of Defense. The approved plan then enters into effect and construction can commence.

Legal action may be taken by those who have filed objections, but such a suit can be filed only after the approved plan is signed by the Minister of Defense. Since the Israeli Supreme Court has already rejected suits challenging the legality of E-1 on  a number of occasion in the past,  judicial intervention that would prevent the construction is highly unlikely.