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Israel freezes plan for East Jerusalem settlement project

The decision to delay the approval of a new settlement followed a phone call between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

An Israeli state planning commission on Monday halted plans for a controversial settlement project in East Jerusalem, amid pressure from the Biden administration and activists who blasted the housing plan as an obstacle to peace. 

The Israeli government had backed a plan to build more than 9,000 new houses at Atarot, a proposed settlement located near the site of the abandoned airport and the Palestinian town of Qalandia.   

In a short statement on Monday, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee said that the Ministry of Environmental Protection would need to conduct an environmental impact survey before settlement plans could be greenlit. That process is expected to take about a year. 

Israeli media reported that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his concerns over the housing plan during a phone call with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week. 

The Palestinians envision the Gaza Strip and West Bank as part of a future state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. More than 440,000 Jewish settlers currently live in the West Bank on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war. 

Most of the international community views the settlements as a violation of international law that threaten the chances of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

“We hope the government takes advantage of the time to reexamine the damage the plan has on the chance for peace, the development of Jerusalem, and Israel’s relations with the United States,” anti-settlement organization Peace Now said.