On May 29, 2013, Israel's Channel 10 TV news revealed that the tenders for the construction of 300 units in the Ramot settlement neighborhood of East Jerusalem had been awarded to contractors, and it was expected that the contracts be signed within days. In addition, they displayed an internal Ministry of Construction document stating that the publication of tenders for an additional 797 units in Mordot Gilo was also forthcoming.
These two schemes come as no surprise. In recent months, we have flagged them as the likely sites to be built when East Jerusalem construction resumed. The Ramot units are about half of two tenders published at the end of 2012 in the framework of Plan 6576 (tenders for 312 units were published on Nov. 5, 2012, and for an additional 294 units on December 25, 2012). The Mordot Gilo Plan for 797 units was approved on October 2012. (A map showing the location of both sets of tenders can be viewed/downloaded here).
Normally, the award of the Ramot tenders and the imminent publication of the Mordot Gilo tenders would not make the news, because such developments take place behind the scenes. We generally find out about tenders (like those anticipated in Mordot Gilo) when they are published. We generally find out about the award of tenders months after the signing of the contract, when it is posted on the ILA website. The fact that these two developments were made public by the Ministry of Construction is itself an exceptional event. That said, this doesn’t mean that these developments are “non-events.” The award of the tenders is indeed a Rubicon, since once third-party rights are involved, stopping a settlement scheme is virtually impossible.
So what happened and what does it mean?
· There are no indications that this is coming from Netanyahu, and he might have a plausible explanation why these things slipped through without his knowledge.
· There are strong indications that these news items were based on a leak initiated by Minister of Construction Uri Ariel, or his associates. They would have done so in order to embarrass Netanyahu, towards the goal of forcing the Prime Minister’s hand and getting him to call off the quiet settlement freeze.
· Even if Ariel or his associates are the source, this by no means indicates that Netanyahu is losing sleep over the issue. He likely views these reports as strengthening his hand with Secretary Kerry in justifying his refusal to freeze settlements (“look at my problematic coalition!”).
The Channel 10 item was widely reported in the international and Palestinian press. Our analysis indicates that this is not a case of Netanyahu intentionally putting the Palestinians (and Kerry) to the test, nor does it mean that the quiet settlement freeze is over. However, it is clear that announcements like these create a very real problem for the Palestinians. In the coming period, much will depends on the quiet assurances Netanyahu could possibly (but will not necessarily) make to Secretary Kerry, the Palestinians and the relevant stakeholders with respect to keeping the lid on future developments of this nature.