On 4/27, the Israel Lands Authority published tenders for the construction of 77 new settlement units. Of these, only 18 are brand new (to be built in Pisgat Zeev, under Town Plan 11647). The remaining tenders were previously published but not awarded, and are now being recycled. These are the tender for another 23 units in Pisgat Zeev (published originally back on August 11, 2013, with the commencement of the Kerry talks) and 36 units in Neve Yaacov (published originally back on January 12, 2014, during Israeli-Palestinian talks).
The tenders for the 18 new units in Pisgat Zeev are the first new tenders in East Jerusalem since the tenders for 400 units in Ramat Shlomo (the "Biden plan”) on June 5, 2014. Indeed, since the major controversy generated by the statutory approval of the 2610 units under the Givat Hamatos plan at the end of September 2014, there had not only been no new tenders, but also no new plans deposited for public review and no new plans receiving statutory approval for East Jerusalem.
What is the significance of these tenders?
- While the number of brand new units tendered is low, the publication of these new and recycled tenders are nonetheless a significant development – one which does not augur well for the future.
- It is likely that these tenders were published with Netanyahu's knowledge and consent. Why? Because the freeze on new tenders since June 5, 2014 has been so complete that it clearly had to have been coordinated with (or directed by) Netanyahu; a decision now to break that freeze would require the same.
- With these new and recycled tenders, Netanyahu appears to "be testing the waters" in a run-up to the formation of his new coalition – in fact, it is surprising that it has taken so long. If so, the de facto, albeit partial, settlement freeze in East Jerusalem may well be over.
- This mixed bag of new and recycled tenders may be indicative of future settlement patterns in the coming weeks and months in East Jerusalem. Why? Because Netanyahu has for the most part run out of tenders that can be issued in East Jerusalem.
- The only place left where large numbers of East Jerusalem tenders are available to be published is Givat Hamatos with its 1500-2610 units. Almost all other possible tenders were published in the previous surges. Other than Givat Hamatos (which Netanyahu has apparently committed to the U.S. and Europe that he will not pursue), what remains are residual units here and there – like those published on April 27 – that amount to a cumulative total of a few hundred units.
In short, these tenders may well be a signal that Netanyahu is once again opening the settlement floodgates. However, the construction potential in East Jerusalem settlements under approved government plans has pretty much been exhausted (as in, they have all already been implemented). This is a stark commentary on extraordinary ineffectiveness of international protestations against East Jerusalem settlement activity; indeed, the success in stopping Givat Hamatos and E-1 has come at the cost of the Israeli government moving full steam ahead and every other settlement project possible.
This means that if the settlement floodgates are opened, new developments will likely be focused more in the West Bank than East Jerusalem. And to the extent that there is a new surge of settlement-related activity in East Jerusalem, it will likely be focused more on plans related to the settlement enclaves in the Old City and its environs, rather than in the large settlement neighborhoods.