Israel 'cancels settlement expansion project' following 'US pressure'
The Israeli government on Wednesday reportedly cancelled or delayed a plan to construct 100 construction projects in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, following pressure from its ally, the US.
The cancellation came ahead of US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s visit to Israel, according to Israeli media.
Israel’s Channel 12 said the construction projects in the East Jerusalem settlement of Nof Zion were due to be announced during Sullivan's visit, but this was cancelled at the last minute following a request from the US embassy in Israel.
The Israeli outlet added that the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem agreed to the decision in coordination with the government – in a bid to not cause any "embarrassment" to its American ally.
Haaretz reported that local planning and building committee at Jerusalem municipality took the settlement expansion off the agenda for Wednesday at the last minute, coinciding with the US visit.
It is not clear if the expansion is permanently cancelled or put on hold for now.
Last November, far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assumed office at the head of what is considered to be the most extremist government in Israel's history.
His coalition includes settler leaders who have engaged in racist rhetoric against Palestinians and vowed to increase the construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law.
It remains unclear whether the decision to not go ahead with the construction project is temporary or permanent.
Sullivan arrived in Israel on Wednesday where he met with President Isaac Herzog, kicking off talks which The Times of Israel described as "aimed at developing a baseline with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new hardline government".
The National Security Adviser is the first senior US official to visit Israel following Netanyahu’s victory in the November election, which saw a host of far-right ministers given ministerial posts.
Sullivan plans to meet Netanyahu later on, where Iran will be top of the agenda, according to the Israeli website Walla.
The security advisor will also seek to gain "a better understanding" of the hardline government’s policies, according to The Times of Israel.
This comes amid pledges by the far-right to annex Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank and expand illegal Jewish settlements, both of which are expected to make life more difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank and increase violence against them.
Israel’s effort to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia will also be a topic of discussion, although the Gulf kingdom insists it will only establish ties with Israel after "a two-state solution" is implemented.
Settlement expansion was declared a "top priority" for Netanyahu's new government, with the prime minister vowing to develop illegal settlements in the West Bank, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, as well as areas within Israel with a high concentration of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The US formally opposes settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem although it has vetoed many UN resolutions condemning Israel for this activity.