Following the UN decision to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the government of Israel issued a series of announcements of the construction of thousands of new housing units in settlements and in East Jerusalem. Some of the planned construction could be lethal for the chances of a two-state solution. We tried to collect the information that was published and explain what it’s about:
1. Advancing plans in E1 – 3,426 units;
2. Tenders for 3,000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem;
3. Advancing plans in East Jerusalem – 5,310 units.
1. E1 – a direct threat to the two state solution
The government decided to approve the advancement of construction plans in E1. Today, (December 5, 2012) the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Council approved the depositing of two plans for 3,426 housing units in the E1 area (plan no. 420/4/10 for the construction of 2,176 housing units, and plan no. 420/4/7 for 1,250 housing units). These are plans that were prepared in the past and approved for deposit in 2004, but as a result of pressure by President Bush, then-Prime Minister Sharon decided to take them off the agenda.
Construction in E1 could be fatal for the two-state solution. E1 cuts the West Bank through the middle and prevents the possibility of normal territorial contiguity for the development of a viable state. The economic, political and social heart of the future Palestinian state is in East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. This plan prevents the possibility to develop the center of the Palestinian state and isolates East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. In other words, we cannot reach an agreement on two states for two peoples if a giant Israeli settlement is built in E1, unless that settlement is evacuated.
See more: Everything you need to know about E1.
The expected procedure from the approval of the plan to its execution:
After the Higher Planning Council approves the plans for depositing, the plans will be published and deposited for public review and 60 days will be given to submit objections. The bureaucratic process usually takes weeks or months, from the approval by the Higher Planning Council until the actual deposit (publication of the plan for objections).
After the deposit, the Higher Planning Council will convene to hear and discuss the objections, which sometimes leads to changes in the plan. After hearing the objections and carrying out the changes to the plan, the council approves the plan for validation, and then a notice is published that the plan has become valid. Only after that procedure, which takes at least a year, is the plan ready for execution and the next stage can be pursued, which is the publication of tenders. More on the planning process see here.
When the plan is valid, the government can publish tenders in which contractors are invited to bid on purchasing construction rights to the plan. From the time the tender is published until the winners are chosen and until they finish their preparations for construction and receive building permits from the local authority, it can take from several months up to a year, and only then does construction begin.
2. 3,000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – publication of tenders
Following the UN vote, the government decided to build 3,000 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but did not officially announce in which settlements. About a year ago, when the UN decided to accept the state of Palestine as a member of UNESCO, the Netanyahu government announced the construction of 2,200 housing units. Only two weeks later did the Housing Ministry publish the list of planned tenders, which included hundreds of housing units in controversial areas such as Ariel, Efrat and Har Homa. The tenders themselves were published months later, in December 2011, and in April and in November 2012. The actual construction began in the past weeks for some of the first tenders. Usually at least a year goes by between the publication of a tender and the beginning of work on the ground.
According to a report in Yedioth Achronoth, the 3000 units the government approved are as follows: tenders for 1200 housing units in Gilo and Pisgat Ze’ev in East Jerusalem, 600 housing units in Gush Etzion, 250 housing units in Givat Ze’ev, 200 housing units in Karnei Shomron and 750 housing units in Ariel.
All construction in the settlements creates facts on the ground that will make it difficult to reach an agreement, but even the very announcement of the construction and the subsequent publication of tenders lead to mistrust between the sides and sends the message to the Palestinians that Israel is not heading for peace but for continued occupation. Of the planned tenders, most disturbing are the tenders for Ariel, Gush Etzion and Karnei Shomron:
200 units in Karnei Shomron: Karnei Shomron is a settlement east of Qalqiliya with 6500 residents. The planned route of the separation fence is supposed to extend a “finger” into the heart of the West Bank, through Karnei Shomron to the settlement of Kedumim (6 km from Nablus). The fence has not been built in this area but it appears that the government is trying to reinforce the settlements in this area in order to obstruct the possibility of reaching an agreement. There is almost no chance that as part of an agreement it will be possible to establish a viable Palestinian state while Israel controls the area of the settlements around Karnei Shomron.
750 units in Ariel: The settlement of Ariel is one of the biggest obstacles to an agreement. It is situated in the middle of the West Bank, 20 km from the Green Line, and prevents Palestinians territorial contiguity in Samaria, whereas in Israeli public opinion it is considered a normal Israeli city (even though it has only 18,000 residents), with a “university” and many people in Israel consider it an important asset for Israel, which must not be conceded.
Ariel has not grown significantly in recent years and is not as attractive as rightwing spokespeople try to portray it. Even the tender published in December 2011 for the construction of 277 apartments did not fully succeed and at least 72 apartments could not be sold and were put up for a new tender in November 2012.
The intention to issue 750 apartments in Ariel is reason for particular concern. It would be substantial growth for the settlement, which would make it much harder for Israel to reach a compromise. The apartments in question may be ones that remain from the building plan for the eastern neighborhood of Ariel, where several hundred planned apartments have yet to be built. But there are grounds to suspect the plan in question is to put a different plan on the market, namely plan no. 130/3/1 west of Ariel, which would expand Ariel’s territory substantially, beyond the city’s fenced area, to a new hill west of the city, near the entrance to the Palestinian town of Salfit. This plan consists of 800 housing units owned by a private developer, who can begin building whenever he wants to, unless there is a specific government decision preventing it, as well as another 800 state-owned housing units, which require a tender to build. If indeed the government plan refers to a tender for this construction, it would be a substantial expansion of Ariel and a serious obstacle to the two-state solution.
600 units in Gush Etzion: Peace Now believes this must refer to tenders in the settlements of Beitar Illit and Efrat. The government is speaking of construction in Gush Etzion, which in Israeli public opinion is perceived as an area that will stay under Israeli control “in any case,” even in an agreement. However, even if some of the Gush Etzion settlements can be annexed to Israel in a land swap without harming the Palestinian state’s territorial contiguity too badly, the settlement of Efrat, with its 7,700 residents, is still one of the biggest obstacles to an agreement.
Efrat is situated east of the main road (Highway 60) connecting the southern West Bank and the Hebron area with the Bethlehem area and the northern West Bank. If Israel annexes Efrat, it will also annex the main highway, cutting off the entire southern West Bank from the rest of the Palestinian state, without any real connection from Bethlehem southwards.
Furthermore, Efrat “strangles” the development of the Bethlehem area. The city of Bethlehem is blocked in the north by the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and Har Homa, blocked from the west by the bypass road, the separation fence and the Gush Etzion settlements, and southwards is almost the only direction it can develop. Efrat blocks the development of Bethlehem southwards, and the plans that were approved and published for tender by the Netanyahu government would extend Efrat quite a way further to the north into the suburbs of Bethlehem.
Peace Now believes, based on announcements published in the past months, that the government has decided to approve permanent construction on Givat Hatamar of at least 100 housing units, and that the tenders in Gush Etzion will include the construction on Givat Hatamar. Givat Hatamar is an outpost with dozens of caravans north of Efrat. In the December 2012 tenders the government approved permanent construction of 40 houses in the nearby outpost of Givat Hadagan, and the infrastructure works have begun in recent weeks. The government is thereby significantly expanding one of the most controversial settlements and seriously obstructing chances for an agreement.
The tenders in Efrat follow the intention to begin developing Givat Eitam, northeast of Efrat, where a giant neighborhood is planned, which would actually double the size of Efrat and block one of the last areas remaining for Bethlehem to grow southwards. In the past months the Defense Minister approved the establishment of an agricultural farm in Givat Eitam.
3. Construction plans in East Jerusalem
In addition to the government announcement of 3,000 housing units and the advancement of the planning of E1, there are several plans in East Jerusalem that have recently moved forward significantly:
a. Givat Hamatos – A plan to build 2,610 housing units between Gilo and Har Homa is about to receive final approval. According to press reports, in two weeks the Jerusalem Municipality’s Local Planning and Building Committee will discuss final approval of Stage I of the Givat Hamatos plan. After that approval tenders can be issued and construction can begin. As far as a final status agreement, construction in Givat Hamatos, like in E1, prevents the possibility of a two states solution. It completes the isolation of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and encloses the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa, preventing any possibility of its connection with the future Palestinian state. See more on Givat Hamtos here.
b. Ramat Shlomo – The Regional Planning Committee is expected to hear objections that were submitted against the plan to build 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, on the land of the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat. The plan made headlines in March 2010, during the visit of U.S. Vice President Biden, when it was approved for depositing and caused uproar. At that time the government promised the Americans the plan would not be pursued. Now the plan has reached an important milestone on the way to its final approval, after which it can receive final approval and tenders and construction can begin.
c. Gilo – Another plan expected to be discussed by the District Planning and Building Committee is the Mordot Gilo (Gilo Slopes) South plan, for the construction of 842 housing units plus the option of another 300 units. The committee is expected to hear objections on December 20, after which the plan can receive final approval within weeks or months. There is another plan, Mordot Gilo West, for 800 housing units, which got the final approval in October 2012. It appears that the government announcement of 3000 new tenders includes tenders for building the Gilo West project.