Last week saw press reports, based on sources within Israel’s Ministry of Construction, suggesting that the Netanyahu government intends to announce the construction of 15,000 settlement units in East Jerusalem, on or about May 23/24 – that is, coinciding with Jerusalem Day and a possible visit to Israel by President Trump. According to these reports, which appear to be credible, the announcement will include:
· 10,000 of the units will be in Atarot, on the site of the Qalandia airport;
· 3000 units will be in Ramat Shlomo; and
· 2,000 units will be in Givat Hamatos.
Constuction under all of these plans is enormously problematic, both in terms of impact on an any attempt jump-start a political process and impact on the ground, where each of these plans contributes to making a two-state solution in Jerusalem more difficult. All of these plans are extremely detrimental, even devastating, but construction in Givat Hamatos is by far the most dangerous, because of its potentially fatal impact on the feasibility of the two-state solution and because of the immediacy of this impact.
What will the Givat Hamatos annoucement consist of and what will it mean?
All required planning and approval for the Givat Hamatos construction is already complete. The only thing left to do to move ahead with this project is publish tenders for the construction of the 1500-2610 planned settlement units. If there will be an announcement on Givat Hamatos, it should be expected that it will entail the immediate publication of some or all of these tenders. That publication would be virtually irrevocable, given the immediate involvement of private sector interests, and the awarding the tenders and subsequent construction, in short order, will be a foregone conclusion.
This is not a drill. There is no trip-wire or margin of error. Construction of Givat Hamatos will have a devastating, if not deadly impact on the very possibility of the two state-solution. Indeed, if this project moves forward it will be the most devastating settlement development years. And if construction in Givat Hamatos is to be prevented, action would need to be undertaken prior to any official announcement of tenders.
What is at stake regarding the Givat Hamatos construction? What makes Givat Hamatos so special?
As we have warned for years, Givat Hamatos is not just another detrimental settlement; it is a game-changer, akin to the danger posed by E-1.
(1) Preventing a two-state agreement in Jerusalem.
· Construction of Givat Hamatos will mean that for the first time since 1967, a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Beit Safafa, will be completely surrounded by Israeli construction.
· This will make the delineation of a border based on the principle that Palestinian neighborhoods will fall under Palestinian sovereignty and Israeli neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty, impossible to realize without relocating either Israeli or Palestinian residents.
· By dictating that Beit Safafa must remain under Israeli sovereignty, Givat Hamatos undermines the very logic of the two-state solution that results in two states, based on an agreed and recognized border border and that ensures the territorial integrity, contiguity and viability of both states.
(2) Severing East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
· The site planned for Givat Hamatos is located between the East Jerusalem settlement neighborhood of Gilo and Bethlehem (map).
· Along with Har Homa to its east and Gilo to the south and west, Givat Hamatos will contribute to the creation of a buffer or seal, detaching East Jerusalem from Bethlehem.
· Givat Hamatos will further undermine the possibility of a viable Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and further cement the cutting-off of East Jerusalem to Palestinians living in the West Bank (and Gaza).
· Givat Hamatos will further isolate the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, increasing their frustration, anger, and their perception that their narrative, rights and ties are being denied.
(3) Undermining the possibility of negotiations and any future “deal.”
· Givat Hamatos will be the first new Israeli settlement neighborhood of East Jerusalem established since Har Homa (established by Netanyahu in 1997).
· It will be a serious blow to attempts to re-start negotiations, emphasizing the futility of political processes at a time when borders are being unilaterally determined by means of settlement expansion, and not through negotiations.
· It will strengthen the growing perception whereby Al Quds is in danger of being lost to the Arab world and Islam, making attempts to elicit positive engagement from Arab states on Israel Palestine issues more difficult, to say the least.
(4) Posing a test, and a challenge, to President Trump and Europe.
· This pre-announcement of Givat Hamatos is a major test of the Trump Administration’s seriousness about reaching a “deal” on Israel-Palestine.
· While publishing these tenders would be disastrous at any time, doing so in the context of American efforts to renew negotiations, and even moreso in the context of a U.S. Presidential visit (or shortly before or thereafter), would severely undermine the U.S. role as a credible broker.
· Should President Trump fail to convince Netanyahu to back off on Givat Hamatos, it will not only be a major – even fatal – blow to Trump’s aspirations to renew talks, but could set the tone and script for the rest of Netanyahu’s term (akin to President Obama taking on Netanyahu over setttlements at the outset of his first term and losing, laying the groundwork for a relationship in which Netanyahu consistently had the upper hand and treated the White House with at best barely concealed contempt).
· Givat Hamatos also presents a challenge for Europe, which until now has held firm in opposing this settlement.Givat Hamatos will be a test of whether EU member states, non-member states, and soon-to-be ex-member states can put aside differences and maintain a united front, both in opposing Givat Hamatos and in making clear that if Netanyahu proceeds with these tenders, there will be concrete consequences. Such positioning in the past has been critical to preventing Givat Hamatos from proceeding up until now; how Europe acts now will be an important factor in determing what happens next. It should be recalled that Netanyahu intended to publish the Givat Hamatos tenders in September 2014, and changed his mind at the very last moment, in large part due to pressure from EU states.