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Israeli backs off settlement project at Qalandiya airport

The settlement plan would've seen 9,000 units constructed on lands near the separation barrier and the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Kufr Aqab

Jerusalem24 – Israel has assured the United States that the controversial East Jerusalem settlement project, that would’ve constructed 9,000 new housing units will not begin any time soon; despite the boost it received last week from a local planning committee.

This is the first time since Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennet, took office in June that he has caved into to US pressure to hold off on settlement expansion.

Architects’ plans for a new neighborhood at the site of the abandoned Atarot Airport. (Source: Jerusalem Municipality)

The project was next scheduled to go before the Interior Ministry District Planning Committee, which on December 6 is set to decide whether the plan can be deposited. It’s a move the would allow the committee to prepare the plan for final approval. But the bureaucratic process is a long one and would also include an objections phase before another meeting can be held to allow for its final approval.

News of Israel’s decision to tell the US that the project would not move forward was first reported by The Jerusalem Post’s sister website, site Walla and confirmed later by the Post.

A diplomatic official said on Thursday that once the District Planning Committee approves the project, “it won’t reach the upper echelon for another year.”

Another source confirmed that the Israelis had indeed told the US that the project would not be advanced.

According to Hagit Ofran of the left-wing group Peace Now, which opposes the plan, the December 6 meeting is no longer listed on the Interior Ministry’s website. The Interior Ministry said it would respond to queries on the matter on Sunday, after checking with relevant officials.

European Union Representative to the Palestinian Authority Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff is at the location suggested for the project, on November 22, 2021. (Photo Credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

The US, the international community and the Palestinian Authority fear that the plan would drive a wedge between East Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods. This would make it impossible for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state in any two-state resolution to the conflict.

The Biden administration has been clear that it opposes all settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem, although it did not officially respond to Wednesday’s advancement of the project.

Bennett believes that Israel has the right to build Jewish homes anywhere in its united capital. But like most topics, not all the parties in the government have a common stance on Jerusalem.

According to Peace Now, Israel’s Construction and Housing Committee in 2015 allocated NIS 2 million to design the Atarot project, which will also include commercial centers, hotels, parks and schools.

In February 2020, the ministry submitted the plan to the Jerusalem Municipality, which this week recommended that it be deposited with the District Planning Committee.

The abandoned Qalandiya Airport, north of Jerusalem, on November 25, 2021, The Israeli Jerusalem Municipality has approved on Wednesday November 24, 2021, the promotion of a new neighborhood on the site of the abandoned Atarot Airport. (Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The project is slated to be built on the site of the former Qalandiya Airport, which operated from 1924 to 2000. It is located near Ramallah, between Route 443 and the Qalandiya crossing. Beside it is the Israeli separation barrier and the East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Kufr Aqab.

Mohammad Hamayel

Ramallah based journalist, Mohammad graduated from Al-Quds University with a B.A. in Media and Television. He has covered the 2015 Jerusalem Intifada as well as the Great March of Return for international media outlets. currently an editor/presenter at Jerusalem24. A UN alumni and a follower of global events and politics, especially American affairs.

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