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Blinken initiated call with PM amid doubts Israel actually called off Atarot plan

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NEW YORK — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken initiated a phone call with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday night to express his dismay over Israeli plans to advance a controversial East Jerusalem housing project despite signaling last week that it had shelved the plan, sources familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

The phone call was “intense,” an official said, with Blinken expressing the Biden administration’s vehement opposition to the 9,000-home plan in Atarot, which supporters of a two-state solution argue would mark a death knell for the proposal by creating a wedge in the middle of Palestinian contiguity between Ramallah and East Jerusalem.

Last Wednesday, a local committee in the Jerusalem municipality gave preliminary approval to the project slated for construction on the grounds of the old Atarot airport and intended to be an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, sparking concern from Washington. The next step in the approval would see the project green-lit through the “deposit” stage by the District Planning Committee in the Interior Ministry.

However, the next day, senior Israeli officials confirmed to The Times of Israel that they had assured their American counterparts that the Atarot project had been shelved.

The Interior Ministry subsequently removed the plan from its docket hours later after the District Planning Committee had been scheduled to adjudicate the plan on December 6.

On Sunday though, those following the matter closely noticed that the Atarot plan had returned to the website of the Interior Ministry, which confirmed that the plan is indeed on the docket for next Monday.

To further complicate matters, a source familiar with the matter told ToI on Thursday that the State Department only learned of the Israeli commitment to shelve the project from the media and that no message was passed along directly to them.

The State Department declined a request for comment on the matter. The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on the record.

The State Department........

© The Times of Israel

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