The ongoing tense and intermittently violent situation in East Jerusalem is taking place to a backdrop of continued provocative settler/settlement activity.
Silwan: On October 19, settlers carried out the latest take-over of property in Silwan, displacing 5 Palestinian families as they moved into a large structure in the Batan al Hawa section of Silwan. This takeover could not have taken place without the active cooperation of Israeli authorities, who provided large-scale security support for the settlers. The fact that this takeover took place at this time – when tensions are extraordinarily high (which would lead rational leaders to avoid actions that could gratuitously fan the flames of violence), and when security resources are desperately needed to protect Israelis across the country – current Israeli leaders elected to back the settlers in establishing what is effectively a new settlement enclave in an area of Silwan in which, until now, settlers had failed to gain a significant foothold. For more, see our earlier report on Batan al Hawa (here). On October 29, Palestinian media reported that settlers had locked a remaining Palestinian family out of their home in the area. For more on this issue, see this November 2 report from Haartez’ Nir Hasson: The Judaization of an East Jerusalem Neighborhood Gains Steam.
Ramat Shlomo: On October 29, IDF Radio (Galatz) reported that following week the Jerusalem Municipality would be issuing the first building permits in the highly controversial Ramat Shlomo expansion, to include permits for the construction of 82 residential units. The plan subsequently appeared on the agenda for the November 4 Licensing Committee (a copy of the agenda is here). The permits are being requested by a developer who was awarded the contracts under tenders published on November 3, 2013 (during the Kerry negotiations). All of the statutory approvals have been granted and construction can commence as soon as permits are issued (reportedly work on infrastructure for the projects has already commenced). For background on the plan, see our previous reporting (May 2015, August 2013). If in the past, the issuance of building permits for already-approved settlement projects has received little attention, this has changed in recent years with the surge in East Jerusalem settlement activities and the political impasse. Today, the issuance of permits receives wide coverage and generates controversy.
On 11/2, there were a number of press reports indicating that the Ramat Shlomo permits had been removed from the agenda. Jerusalem Municipality publicly denied the report aired by Israeli Army Radio that there was a (temporary) settlement freeze in East Jerusalem, including on the Ramat Shlomo permits. The Municipality statement asserted that, “The Jerusalem municipality continues to advance construction throughout the city for all populations.” At the same time, a spokesman for the Municipality denied that the approval of permits for construction in Ramat Shlomo was ever on the agenda for the week’s meeting – an assertion that is contradicted by the actual agenda (again, here).
What does this all mean? With Netanyahu in Washington for his fence-mending visit – during which he is seeking to rebuild bridges to Democrats in Congress and the Jewish community, as well as strengthen ties with Presidential candidates (if not the current president), he has nodouvt realized that the approval of new settlement construction in East Jerusalem just days before arriving in Washington will not serve his purposes. However, the assertions by Municipal officials to the effect that the Ramat Shlomo plan will re-appear on the Committee’s agenda soon after he returns to Israel should be taken very seriously.
Ramot (breaking news): The Mitzpe Naftoah plan in Ramot is due to receive final approval from the Housing Cabinet (the special committee geared to streamline the approval process to expedite construction) on November 11. The plan involves 1400 units in Ramot, 100-150 of which are beyond the Green Line (Ramot straddles the Green Line). This is most inauspicious both in terms of the timing of the approval and the substance of the plan. This will be a final approval with no possible appeal.