On the eve of Biden’s visit, two new settlements in East Jerusalem are being promoted

*** Update from 13/7/22: Following Prime Minister Lapid’s order to cancel the discussion of the plan on the 18/7/22, the meeting of the planning committee was re-scheduled for one week later at the 25/7/22. See more here.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee will discuss next Monday (18/7/22) the promotion of c. 2,000 of housing units in East Jerusalem in two new settlements: Givat Hashaked near Beit Safafa and Shorafat, and the Lower Aqueduct plan between Har Homa and Givat Hamatos. The agenda for the discussion has been published hours before President Biden’s landing in Israel. Both plans are intended to strike a severe blow at the possibility of a two-state solution, and of the development of East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital. Following the publication of the agenda in the media, the Prime Minister’s office has announced that they will be taken off the agenda, but as of the evening of 12/7/22 the plans are still on the agenda at the Planning Authority’s website.

It is important to emphasize that in March 2010, during Biden’s visit to Israel as Vice President, a discussion took place on depositing a plan for 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, East Jerusalem, eventually leading to a crisis that undermined the entire visit. 

Peace Now: We hope that the harmful plans will be removed immediately from the agenda. The settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are sabotaging the Israeli interest and harming the prospect of peace. The time has come for Prime Minister Lapid not allow the right in his government to dictate the political agenda, and to stop the plan in E1 and other harmful plans. Now that Israel is heading for elections, there is no longer an excuse of coalition constrains to appease the right wing.

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.