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Israeli Settlements Debate: Jerusalem Cancels Key Vote Ahead of Kerry Speech

TEL AVIV, Israel — Jerusalem's municipal government has canceled a vote on new homes in annexed areas ahead of a speech by the U.S. Secretary of State that is expected to criticize Israel's plans to expand settlements.

Councilman Hanan Rubin told NBC News that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened to ask for the vote on 492 housing units be postponed in light of John Kerry's address, due later Wednesday. The housing plans had drawn U.S. criticism in a raging dispute over settlements.

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Kerry's address, which is expected to be a last-ditch effort to restart peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, will be watched carefully by Netanyahu's government, according to former deputy national security adviser in Israel Chuck Freilich.

There was "growing fear in Israel — I would say it borders almost on panic" that secretary Kerry was getting set to present a major statement on Middle East policy, said Freilich, who is now with Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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He added: "By stating those terms, and if they are then also endorsed by the other foreign ministers ... this will put the international community behind terms which the current Israeli government does not want to see adopted."

The proposed settlement in Ramot and Ramat Shlomo is part of building activity that the U.N. Security Council demanded an end to on Friday. The permits under discussion are for homes for Israelis in areas that Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed to Jerusalem.

Image: Housing construction underway on the outskirts of the disputed Israeli 'settlement' of Ramat Shlomo
Housing construction underway on the outskirts of the disputed Israeli settlement of Ramat Shlomo on Dec. 23. JIM HOLLANDER / EPA

The United States on Friday broke with a longstanding approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and abstained on Friday's Security Council resolution, which passed with 14 countries in favor and none against.

Kerry was expected to discuss the abstention when he speaks at the State Department at 11 a.m. ET.

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The speech will also address what the official called "misleading" accusations by Israeli officials that the Obama administration drafted and forced the resolution to a vote.

“The prime minister said that while he supports construction in Jerusalem, we don't have to inflame the situation any further," Rubin told Reuters earlier.

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The committee meets regularly, and it could consider approving the permits at a future date.

Israel has for decades pursued a policy of building Jewish settlements on occupied territory Palestinians seek for a state. Most countries view the settlements as an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing a biblical, historical and political connection to the land, as well as security interests. Washington considers the settlement activity illegitimate.

Some 570,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem among more than 2.6 million Palestinians.