On the day after tomorrow [Dec. 5], the Planning Committee of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria will already discuss the request to authorize the establishment of about 3,000 housing units in area E1 between North Jerusalem and [the settlement of ] Ma'ale Adumim. The next stage will be publication of the decision for receiving the objections from the public.
Israel informed the American administration that the understandings between Jerusalem and Washington regarding construction in E1 territory “are no longer relevant” — according to Laura Rozen’s Back Channel blog, which specializes in issues connected to the Middle East. A senior diplomatic source who talked to Rozen noted that when Netanyahu first assumed office, understandings were reached with the [American] administration that Israel would not advance any building plans for this area. The understandings were meticulously observed throughout four years and now, due to elections in Israel and the substantive Palestinian violation of the agreements, the validity of these understandings has expired.
However, the American administration regards Netanyahu’s construction announcement as the crossing of a red line. Throughout the years, under prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem and Washington had an understanding that Israel would not actually promote any building in the [E1] area.
A high-placed official in Jerusalem said last night [Dec. 2], “In contrast to impressions, Netanyahu is totally serious about this. This is not a game or pretense.” Another Israeli source said, “Netanyahu was looking for an excuse to promote building in the area, and now he is determined to carry it out.”
The practical significance of construction in area E1 is that Ma'ale Adumim will be connected to Jerusalem — thus preventing the territorial contiguity of any Palestinian state that may arise in the future.
Subsequent to the publicizing of the construction decision, sharp protests were submitted to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and the prime minister’s office by ambassadors of important European countries such as France, Germany, Britain, Holland and the European Union. The United Nations Secretary General also censured the construction. According to a New York Times report, the American administration (which received the notification of the construction-decision only two hours before it was publicized in the media), expressed anger and frustration. The administration, which had asked Israel not to react harshly to Palestinian recognition in the United Nations, had thought that its request [for moderation] had been accepted.
Among those who attacked the government’s decision to build on [A1] area was former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who participated in discussions of the Saban Forum in Washington. He said last night [Nov. 2] that “a friend of Israel should use every power persuasion he has in order to convince the government of Israel to immediately embark on the peace plan based on what I proposed.” Olmert also added, “The declaration of 3,000 building units was the worst slap in Obama's face. It seems as if Israel’s most critical issue is preventing the establishment of two states for two nations.”
Olmert also addressed the recognition gained by the Palestinians in the United Nations General Assembly. “This is the first time that the United Nations votes on behalf of a solution that we have said we support — a solution that Netanyahu said, in his Bar Ilan speech, that he agrees to. So why must we reject it? It is a bad situation when the whole world unites against Israel over an issue that we basically are in favor of.”
Olmert was asked if he intends to run [for the prime minister’s office] in the Israeli elections. He answered, “I'm running, I run today 11 kilometers [6.8 miles] in the workout gym.”
Another step the government intends to take against the Palestinian Authority is expressed in the decision of Treasury Minister Yuval Steinitz, in coordination with Netanyahu, to withhold 460 million shekel [about $120 million] of tax revenue that Israel transfers each month to the Palestinians. These funds will serve to offset the Palestinian debt to the Israel Electric Corp. Additional steps that were discussed at the government’s meeting yesterday [Dec. 2] was to revoke freedom of movement for a number of higher-level Palestinian officials, not including Abu Mazen.
A number of ministers expressed their dissatisfaction with these steps and claimed that these responses are not significant [enough]. “What Netanyahu has to do is accept the main points of the Edmund Levy Report on the settlements,” said one of the ministers. “That is what will show that Israel has adopted a clear policy on the matter — not decisions like construction in the territories. The implementation of many of those kinds of construction projects can take years, long after the conclusion of the Knesset elections.”
Senior sources in the Palestinian Authority said they don’t believe that Steinitz will carry out his threat to freeze the Palestinian tax revenues. “If Israel really carries out the threat, that will constitute a harsh blow to the Palestinian economy,” they said. “But past experience has shown us that every time Israel tried to hold up tax revenue, they buckled under international pressure.”
Hanan Ashrawi, member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, “The state of Israel’s decision to freeze the funds as punishment for the Palestinian bid to the United Nations is shameful behavior. It is vulgar blackmail to which we will not surrender.”
Asaf Gabor and Tzach Yoked helped prepare this report.