While President Biden was reiterating his support for a two state solution at the arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion airport, the promotion of two new settlements in East Jerusalem was scheduled to be discussed soon after his departure. After Prime Minister Lapid ordered to cancel the planned discussion of the Jerusalem District Planning Committee that was supposed to take place on July 18, in order to avoid embarrassments during Biden’s visit, the discussion was set for one week later, for July 25.
The Planning Committee will discuss the depositing of two plans for c. 2,000 units that will strike a severe blow at the possibility of a two state solution and of the development of East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital. The Plans, Givat Hashaked near Beit Safafa and the Lower Aqueduct plan between Har Homa and Givat Hamatos, will bloc the last remaining corridor to connect between Beit Safafa and Shorafat and the rest of the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
Recall that in March 2010, during Biden’s visit to Israel as Vice President, a plan for 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, East Jerusalem was promoted eventually leading to a crisis that undermined the entire visit.
Peace Now: The Lapid government decided to give a slap in the face of the US president and during his visit it is promoting two devastating plans in East Jerusalem. While at the arrival ceremony president Biden was reiterating his support and commitment to a two state solution, the Israeli government was acting in order to sabotage it. Those plans are not only harming Israel’s relations with its biggest ally but they are harming the Israeli interests and the prospect of peace and compromise in Jerusalem.
The Background to the re-scheduling of the meeting is that after Peace Now exposed the fact that the plans were to be promoted on July 18, Prime Minister Lapid declared that he ordered that the meeting of the Planning Committee will be cancelled. Following this announcement, the Right Wing Minister of Interior, Ayelet Shaked, who is in charge of the Planning Authority, declared that she would make sure that the plans WILL be promoted one week later. Today the agenda of the planning committee was published and the two plans were indeed set to be discussed on July 25.
It is important to note that if it was important for PM Lapid, he can make sure that the plans will not be discussed. He can confront Minister Shaked, and if she refuses to cancel the meeting of the planning committee, he can fire her and change her decision. Such a move will not threaten his government because it is already a caretaker government and the election date is already set for November.
The “Lower Aqueduct” plan for the construction of 1,446 new housing units between Har Homa and Givat Hamatos
This is a government plan, prepared at the initiative of the Israel Land Authority and promoted very quickly: it was put on the table of the District Planning Committee in July 2021, after the formation of the Lapid-Bennett government, and quickly went through the bureaucratic preparation procedures. The plan was discussed in January this year in the District Committee that ordered changes to the plan, and now the amended plan is being submitted for approval for deposit.
Politically, this is a strategic plan that will strike a blow at the possibility of a Palestinian urban continuum in East Jerusalem. The plan actually blocks the last remaining corridor to connect Beit Safafa and Shorafat with the rest of East Jerusalem. It should be noted that although about half of the plan area is beyond the Green Line, and about half within the Green Line, its strategic location, between Givat Hamatos and Har Homa makes it particularly problematic politically.
Land ownership – the plan includes about 186 dunams. According to information we have, probably more than a third of them, about 52 dunams are managed by the General Custodian after being owned by Jews before 1948, similar to the land in the “Givat Hashaked” plan in Shorafat, Sheikh Jarrah and other places in East Jerusalem. About 21 dunams are owned by the JNF (Jewish National Plan); about 10 dunams are considered absentees’ properties, about 7 dunams are owned by the state and the rest is private land. It is interesting that the Israel Land Authority initiates a plan where most of the land is privately owned, including lands managed by the General Custodian (similar to the trend revealed by Nir Hasson in Haaretz about the activities of the General Custodian in East Jerusalem.)
About two years ago, the Jerusalem municipality promoted a plan to establish an employment center for Palestinians on part of lands of the new plan, but under pressure from the residents of Har Homa, it canceled the plan. The area is now included in the new construction plan for Israelis.
“Givat Hashaked” plan – for the construction of 473 housing units in Shorafat / Beit Safafa lands.
This is a plan initiated by the Custodian General, who in an extraordinary move began initiating plans in East Jerusalem on land under his management. These lands, similar to the lands in Sheikh Jarrah, were owned by Jews before 1948 and then passed to the Jordanians and after 1967 to the Custodian General. This is almost the last land reserve for the development of the Palestinian Shorafat neighborhood, and the new Israeli neighborhood will block its development from the south.
The plan envisages several skyscrapers with 473 housing units. The plan was discussed in the district committee in February this year, and the committee sought to complete environmental inspections before the decision. It also became clear during the discussion that the planners intend to add another 200 housing units to the plan. The plan is now submitted for approval for deposit.
It should be noted that in April 1995, under the Rabin government, the government issued an expropriation notice of about 200 dunams for the purpose of establishing a neighborhood in this area. This announcement, which was the first expropriation in Jerusalem since the Oslo Accords and the peace agreement with Jordan, led to a crisis with the Palestinians and the Jordanians, and was severely condemned by the United States.
Following this, Rabin pledged that there would be no more expropriations in East Jerusalem. The Rabin government eventually withdrew from the expropriation, after the Arab factions submitted a motion of no confidence in the government, and the Likud, led by Netanyahu, decided to join them. The government withdrew from the expropriations and the government did not fall.