Netanyahu aborts plans for 20,000 West Bank homes

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a halt to plans for 20,000 new West Bank housing units.

“This is a meaningless step — legally and in practice — and an action that creates an unnecessary confrontation with the international community at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the international community to reach a better deal with Iran,” Netanyahu said Tuesday in his announcement in reprimanding Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

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Hours earlier, Netanyahu had ordered the cancellation of a tender for 1,200 housing units in the controversial E1 corridor connecting Jerusalem to the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim.

Ariel agreed to reconsider the plans, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told JTA that Netanyahu’s order to halt the tenders was “welcome.”

“As we said yesterday: Our position on settlements is quite clear. We consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate,” Meehan said. “We have called on both sides to take steps to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations. We do not consider settlement planning, even in its early stages, to be a step that creates a positive environment for the negotiations.”

On Wednesday, during a Knesset debate on housing prices, Netanyahu said there would be more construction in the settlements.

“In recent months, we built thousands of homes in Judea and Samaria, and in the coming months we plan to build thousands more,” he said. “It was never easy, but we did it responsibly, despite international pressure.”

Also Wednesday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement to Reuters TV that negotiations with Israel were frozen over the announcement of new housing construction in the settlements.