On August 11, Minister of Interior Eli Yishai announced that he had granted final approval to three large settlement plans in East Jerusalem. According to a statement issued by Minister Yishai’s spokesperson, the three plans are:
Plan 11085, Ramat Shlomo (1600 Units)
Plan 11647, Pisgat Zeev (625 Units)
Plan 5834 A, Givat Hamatos, (2337 Units)
These approvals come on the heels of the August 7, 2011 approval of Har Homa C (Plan number 10310, for 983 units) and for construction in Har Homa B for public buildings and 50 units (Plan number 12825), discussed here and here.
All of these plans are initiated and backed by the government of Israel.
As today’s statement by the spokesman of the Ministry of Interior conveys, significant approvals for East Jerusalem settlement construction were granted today. However, the press release contains information that is both incorrect and misleading.
Specifically, with respect to the Ramat Shlomo approval, this plan legally cannot have received final approval from the Minister, since it was never actually published for public review after the March 2010 Biden visit (although during the visit it was decided to do so). That said, today’s announcements clearly expedited settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, even if in a manner that differs with precisely what is being hyped by the Ministry of the Interior.
Likewise, the Givat Hamatos scheme has indeed received final approval, but this approval does not mean that tenders can be issued and permits granted. Givat Hamatos is a complicated case, because the patterns of land ownership in the area – Israeli, Palestinian, and church – are dauntingly complicated. Even with the final approval granted, the plan cannot be implemented until the land ownership issues are sorted out in a manner to permit construction, requiring another planning process called “reparcellation.” Until then, no tenders can be issued or permits granted. The reparcellation schemes for Givat Hamatos are already before the Municipal Planning Committee, and their approval may be only months away but in the meantime, any approval granted by the Minister cannot be implemented.
In terms of numbers, in the space of less than one week Israeli has expedited the construction of 5595 settlement units in East Jerusalem. This total represents an 11% increase in the total number of units built for Israelis in East Jerusalem since 1967. This total is also 930% greater than all the units built with government support for Palestinians in East Jerusalem since 1967. Based on these latest approvals, we can anticipate in a matter of a few short weeks the publication of tenders for the construction of at least 1658 new units – a 3.3% increase in the number ofEast Jerusalem settlement units, and 276% more than all those units built for Palestinians with government support since 1967.
The impact on the ground
Givat Hamatos: The Givat Hamatos plan – involving a “Balkanized” pattern of construction based on ethnic/national lines – would, if implemented, greatly complicate any future agreement on Jerusalem. The area in question – wedged between the settlement of Gilo, theJerusalem (Palestinian) neighborhood of Beit Safafa, and the West Bank city of Bethlehem – is already potentially the most difficult place to delineate a viable border between Israel and Palestine. If the Givat Hamatos plan is carried out, it will for all intents and purposes preclude Palestinian Beit Safafa ever becoming part of Palestine (making the implementation of the Clinton parameters or the an agreement along the lines of the Geneva Initiative virtually impossible). The decision to move forward with the Givat Hamatos plan – a plan that municipal officials have admitted in the past poses truly daunting challenges from a legal/technical standpoint – sends a message that the Netanyahu government is determined to go after every square inch of land in East Jerusalem, even those areas where construction is least feasible.
Har Homa C: As we have discussed previously, the Har Homa C plan provides for a new section of Har Homa, involving construction that is, in its entirety, beyond the existing built-up area of the settlement. It significantly expands the footprint of the settlement into a new area in the direction of Bethlehem/Beit Sahour (onto a hill that is currently covered in trees). This plan changes the potential border between Israel and Palestine in Jerusalem more than any other East Jerusalem plan that has been approved in recent years, and will make a permanent status agreement on Jerusalem incrementally more difficult. A map of the Har Homa B and C plans is available here.
Pisgat Zeev: The Pisgat Zeev plan, if implemented, will “weld” the settlement to the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, making the creation of a reasonable border regime in the area more difficult.
Ramat Shlomo: The Ramat Shlomo plan will would almost double the size of the existing settlement. Given the history of this Ramat Shlomo plan (in particular its role in the high-profile dust-up between the Obama Administration and the Netanyahu government in March 2010), announcing final approval of the plan now (even if that announcement is misleading) is nothing short of a very public “F- You” statement by the Netanyahu government, aimed at both the Obama Administration and the Palestinians. Back when this came up in March 2010, the Israeli Government gave assurances that the plan would be indefinitely “kicked down the road.” However, when it comes to East Jerusalemsettlements, “indefinite” appears to be a very elastic term.
The political impact
With these approvals the Netanyahu government is telegraphing clear messages about its intentions with respect to Jerusalem, to the Palestinians (and the possibility of ever re-starting peace efforts), and to the Obama administration and the international community. So in East Jerusalem, the proverbial “September” that everyone has been girding for has come early, and the age of unilateralism is already well upon us.
In all likelihood there are also internal coalition politics at play. There can be no question that it was Netanyahu himself who decided to open theEast Jeusalem settlement floodgates last November, allowing a surge in approvals to begin. Since then he has periodically reined things in when it suited him and letting them go forward when he wanted to stick it to Obama, but for the most part he let things continue on their already careening course forward.
With this recent spate of major approvals, it seems clear that Minister Yishai is hijacking Netanyahu’s new readiness to support settlement in construction in East Jerusalem – in effect, he is trying to be “out-Bibi Bibi.” His motivations for doing so are multiple. First, he is likely more than happy to rock the foundations of the coalition at a time when Netanyahu is under unprecedented domestic pressure (over the housing protests), in effect sending Netanyahu a message that on the one hand there is nothing he can do to assert control over events in Jerusalem, even if he wants to, and on the other, that it will be Yishai, not Netanyahu, who will demand credit from supporters of settlement expansion. Second, these approvals are a great way for Yishai to consolidate his own political base. And third, they are a way for him to differentiate himself from Aryeh Deri, the aspiring once-and-future leader of the Shas party.
With Washington caught in the currents of economic crisis, two wars and political dysfunction, with Europe caught between defaults, rioting and the August vacation season and the Middle East in turmoil, it seems that the timing and the choreography of this could not be better for better for the settler enterprise and the Netanyahu government which so vigorously supports it, and could not be worse for the prospects of peace and preserving the two-state solution in Jerusalem.