Hashem appeared to Avram and said, “I will assign this land to your offspring.” And he built a mizbayach there to Hashem who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7 (The Israel BibleTM)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett walked back an announcement of plans to build 3,623 new homes in the Biblical heartland, revising that to 2,200, a reduction of 39%. According to a report in Kan News, the restrictions on the ability for Jews to live in Judea and Samaria came at the behest of the Biden administration after complaints from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This is the first time the issue of new Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria has arisen during the Biden administration. 

The new housing plans are set to be approved next week by the Israeli Civil Administration. It should be noted that Defense Minister Benny Gantz has already approved the construction of 1,000 Palestinian homes in Area C which, according to the Oslo Accords, is designated for Israeli construction. Many of the homes have already been built illegally. The J-Post reported that approval of the Palestinian homes in Israeli-designated areas was “linked” to the reduction in Jewish housing.

‘“We have to be sensitive to the Americans,” a senior diplomatic source told the J-Post. “We believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and fundamentally undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” a State Department official told the Post. “This certainly includes settlement activity which will make achieving a two-state solution much more difficult.  It’s critical to advance steps that will promote calm and reduce tensions,” the official added.

Yesha (Judea and Samaria) Council head David Elhayani said that “when the government makes the correlation between Israeli and Palestinians building in Area C” then a red line has been crossed. “It gives a message to the Palestinians that if you build in Area C, we will authorize it,” Elhayani said. Abbas objected to any Israeli construction in the Israeli controlled Area C. “It contradicts the clear American position expressed by President Joe Biden during his call with President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he affirmed the American side’s rejection of settlements and unilateral measures,” Abbas’s office said in a statement.

It was not made clear whether any Jewish housing in corresponding sections of Area A that are under PA administrative control would be authorized or whether any limitations would be placed on Palestinian construction in Area A as they are on Jewish construction in Area C. It is also unclear whether international law permits these restrictions on housing based on religion or race.

Area C represents approximately 60% of Judea and Samaria and the Oslo Accords mandated that it be entirely under Israeli security and administrative control. In 2015, Abbas declared that the PA was “no longer bound by the Oslo Accords.” Following his announcement, the PA began authorizing Arab construction projects in Area C without coordinating with Israeli authorities. Much of the construction was problematic, compromising security for Israelis.

Though some media describe Judea and Samaria as “illegally occupied territory”, international law permits annexing land captured in a defensive war, which was the case in the 1967 Six-Day War which conquered regions that had been illegally occupied Jordan since 1947. The recent development comes after a revelation that the Biden administration pressured the Israeli government into reopening a de facto U.S. embassy to the Palestinians in Jerusalem.