One week before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Israel, the Prime Minister's Office instructed the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to postpone hearings scheduled for Wednesday regarding construction in several contested areas of the city.
The committee was scheduled to discuss the construction of 50 new housing units in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, as well as a sewage system infrastructure upgrade in the E1 area.
The E1 area, which stretches across 7 kilometers just east of the Jerusalem municipal boundary, between Jerusalem and the city of Maaleh Adumim, has been the focus of controversy as the Palestinian Authority claims it is essential for a future Palestinian state.
The Israeli government approved the construction of over 3,000 housing units in E1 following the Palestinian Authority's upgrade by the UN General Assembly to that of a nonmember observe state, in November 2012.
Those plans met fierce opposition by the United States and the European Union and the Palestinian Authority said that if Israel attempts to realize them, it would pursue action against it in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Prime Minister's Office said Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's order to postpone any hearing regarding housing projects outside the Green Line, including in Jerusalem, was comprehensive.
The Jerusalem Municipality decided to postpone the hearing about the Har Homa construction project because of its proximity to President Obama's arrival in Israel and its desire to avoid the potential embarrassment of green-lighting a controversial project during his visit.
The municipality's caution follows a debacle that took place in March 2010, when the Interior Ministry approved the construction of 1,600 new housing units in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo during a state visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
The Prime Minister's Office said that according to procedures outlined ahead of President Obama's visit, they were briefed on the committee's schedule and therefore asked that the hearings be postponed.
Attorney Yair Gabai, a member of the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee, said that "the construction in Jerusalem is too important to be made the punching bag for various dignitaries, no matter how important they are. Building in Jerusalem should be a year-round endeavor and not something that's suspended on a whim."