On September 27, 2011, the Regional Planning Committee approved for public review Plan 13261 (map), for construction in an area adjacent to the settlement of Gilo, in a development to be called “Mordot Gilo” (translation: “Gilo Slopes”).
What is Plan 13261?
This plan provides for large-scale construction on the southwest slopes of the settlement of Gilo, between the current footprint of Gilo and Beit Jala/Walajeh. If implemented, it will significantly complicate final status arrangements in Jerusalem. This plan is not merely about expanding construction inside an existing settlement – it is about significantly expanding the settlement in the direction of the neighboring West Bank towns. In doing so, it will make any future border arrangements more difficult.
It should be clarified that there two separate, pending Mordot Gilo plans (and at least another one or two additional Mordot Gilo plans, all stages of the overall plan to expand Gilo, to come). Back in July, Plan 13157 (map), for 850-900 units in Mordot Gilo, was approved by the Municipality in anticipation of Regional Planning Committee deliberations to approve the deposit of the plan for public review. Plan 13157 provides for construction immediately to the north of the construction approved under Plan 13261. Plan 13157 was the Gilo expansion plan that was in the headlines in November 2009, when top Netanyahu advisor Yitzhik Molcho was meeting with then Special Envoy George Mitchell.
Both Plan 13261 and Plan 13157 dovetail with plans for a new settlement, to be called “Givat Yael”, which would straddle the West Bank-Jerusalem border and significantly extend Israeli Jerusalem to the south, further sealing the city off from the Bethlehem area and the West Bank (and connecting it to the Etzion settlement bloc). For more background, see here. The statutory planning of Givat Yael has yet to commence.
How many units are involved?
There has been some confusion over the number of units involved in the approval. Until the plan is formally published we will not know with total authority what the size of the plan is. However, the statutory documents that appeared on the agenda of the committee cite the numbers as follows: 780 units, with an option for the construction of an additional 600 units – so the range is between 780 and 1380 units. That is the most authoritative number that can be given until the plans are actually published, which could take place anytime – within a week or perhaps within a year or more.
The #1 Question: Did Netanyahu Know in Advance?
Since the publication of the plan, the international community has been abuzz with a single question: what did Netanyahu know and when did he know it? Or in other words, was this an intentional provocation by the Prime Minister? There is no simple answer.
Netanyahu has already opened the settlement floodgates in Jerusalem. Since November 1, 2010, Netanyahu has made clear, both publicly and behind closed doors, that he has told the Israeli bureaucracy, from his own office on down, that there are no restrictions on settlement expansion in East Jerusalem. If anybody had any doubts, Netanyahu has made recent pronouncements that there is no moratorium and that he supports construction in every part of Jerusalem. Under these circumstances, it is quite possible that Netanyahu did not know the details of this plan in advance, as he had constructed a situation where his advance knowledge/approval of such a plan was not neecessary, as had been the case in the past.
If he didn’t know, it was because he preferred not to know. Everybody who follows Jerusalem issues, whether in Israel, Washington, or capitals in Europe or the Arab world, knew for at least the five days preceding the committee meeting that the Mordot Gilo plan was on the agenda for September 27. If Netanyahu did not know about this specific plan in advance of it appearing on the committee’s agenda, or in advance of the approval being announced, it is because he has intentionally elected to invoke his "right not know".
· Even if Netanyahu didn’t know, and the approval was not intentionally scheduled for the delicate post-UNGA period, it is nonetheless clear that senior elements within the Israeli Government turned this into an intentional provocation.
The possibility that Netanyahu did not have direct knowledge of this plan’s imminent approval does not turn the approval into a politically innocent event. To the contrary, the Israeli ministry of Interior was so eager to grab headlines with this approval that it notified the press about the approval of the plan even before the committee meeting was over. This is a clear example of elements within the government of Israel intentionally fanning the flames, making sure that an event like this gets maximum attention, for maximum political impact, during a very delicate period.