This morning, news was published that the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Land Authority are in a hurry to promote construction beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem (especially in Givat Hamatos, Har Homa and Atarot) and to give the approval of about 100 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, as part of an attempt to establish as many facts on the ground as possible before the changes in the US administration.
The most dangerous plan, both politically and in terms of the stage in the planning process, is the plan to build 2,610 housing units in Givat Hamatos. Construction in Givat Hamatos will severely hamper the prospect of a two-state solution because it will ultimately block the possibility of territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and in particular will prevent Palestinian Beit Safafa from connecting with a future Palestinian state.
The plan in Givat Hamatos got its final approval a few years ago, near a meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, which cast a heavy shadow over the meeting to the point that newspapers reported outrage in the United States and even a rift between the two allies.
Last February, the Ministry of Housing and the Israel Land Authority issued a tender for the construction of 1,077 housing units in Givat Hamatos out of 2,610 in the plan. However, the tender was not yet ready and open for bids, apparently due to disputes between the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Housing and the Israel Land Authority, about the funding of the infrastructure. According to today’s publication, the parties have now been asked to resolve the dispute and release the tender so that bids can be submitted and possibly even awarded and signed even before the US administration changes. In a situation where the tender is already open for bids, and certainly after the bids have already been submitted and selected – it is much more difficult from a practical and political point of view to stop construction. Now is a critical time to halt the tender before it makes the construction a fait accompli.
2. Ramat Shlomo
Ramat Shlomo is an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood across the Green Line in Jerusalem that began to be built in the 1990s after the Oslo Accords. By 2010, about 1,300 housing units had been built in the neighborhood and about 14,500 people lived there. In March 2010, during Joe Biden’s first visit as Vice President Obama to Israel, a plan was approved for deposit to add 1,530 housing units in Ramat Shlomo (Plan No. 11085). The approval of the plan during Biden’s visit cast a severe diplomatic cloud over the visit and as a result, Israel was forced to include the Israeli neighborhoods beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem as part of the construction freeze in the settlements promoted by President Obama at the time. Since then, the plan has continued to progress until its final approval in 2015. Tenders were then issued, and construction began. Currently, about 1,000 housing units out of the 1,530 in the plan are already under construction, some of which are ready for occupancy.
The announcement today of the approval of about 100 housing units in Ramat Shlomo supposedly refers to building permits issued on Tuesday (10/11/20) for the construction of 96 housing units as part of the plan of 1,530 units. A building permit is the last hurdle before construction can begin; after the plan is approved and the tender is completed, the winning contractors prepare detailed program for the construction of the buildings and they have to go through a bureaucratic permit procedure in the Jerusalem municipality. Normally the issuance of a building permit would not have reached the news, but because of the political sensitivity, and the special history of President-elect Biden with Ramat Shlomo, the issue made headlines. It is not impossible that there was someone who hurried to issue the permits right now, but it is possible that this was done in accordance with the normal pace of bureaucratic progress.
3. Additional programs in Har Homa and Atarot
The publication in Haaretz states that officials in the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Land Authority have been instructed to try to promote as many construction plans as possible in the Israeli neighborhoods beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem, including Har Homa and Atarot.
Atarot – In February this year, the Ministry of Housing submitted to the planning committee a plan to build a new settlement in Atarot, with 9,000 housing units adjacent to the Qalandiya checkpoint, in the heart of the Palestinian continuum between Ramallah-Kfar Akev-Beit Hanina (Plan No. 764936). The plan is in the bureaucratic stages and they may try to get it approved for deposit (the first stage in the approval process) even before the change of administration in the United States.
Har Homa – The planning institutions are also promoting a plan to complete the continuum that will permanently block all land reserves for the connection between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem in the extension of Har Homa to the west. In February 2020, the Har Homa E plan (Plan No. 285411) for the construction of 570 housing units (in the first phase) was presented to the District Planning Committee, and the committee approved the continuation of the planning procedures. It may now be sought to expedite and bring the plan for approval for deposit before the change of government in the United States.