Netanyahu Cannot Evade Responsibility for Givat Hamatos Approval & Silwan Takeovers

As expected, Netanyahu has rejected U.S. criticism of the approval of the new Givat Hamatos settlement in Jerusalem and the takeover by settlers of additional residential buildings in the Jerusalem neigborhoods of Silwan settlements.  For background, see our reports on the new developments, here (Givat Hamatos) and here (Silwan).

Netanyahu has launched a multi-pronged, “best-defense-is-a-good-offense” response to criticism of these two major Jerusalem settlement-related developments, employing worn-out, tired arguments. Below we examine – and dismantle – each of them.

 “This is not new” (Givat Hamatos)

  • False. What is happening now is both new (as in, it is legally and technically a new development) and significantly new (as in, this new development changes the situation in significant ways).
  • Last week the (final) statutory approval for the new Givat Hamatos settlement was published in the daily Hebrew and Arabic press. This was a NEW development.
  • This approval flew briefly under the public’s radar due to the Rosh Hashanah holiday. When the news was discovered, it was reported by settlement watchdogs (Peace Now) and picked up in the media, precisely because it is news.
  • This new development is highly significant. Prior to statutory approval, construction permits for a project may not be issued, even if all other approvals are already in place. After final statutory approval has been published, construction permits can be issued. Thus, the granting of final statutory approval is a highly consequential move.

“The timing is innocent; this is just a routine bureaucratic step” (Givat Hamatos)

  • False. The Givat Hamatos plan has been pending for some time. It was approved by the Jerusalem Planning Board a couple of years back, but since that time, no action has been taken to publish the plan – publication being the final step in the statutory approval process. This step could have been taken at any time. For two years, the government of Israel held off.
  • To suggest that the publication of the plan now – as the first Jerusalem settlement approval since talks fell apart, and only days before Netanyahu’s trip to UNGA and to meet with Obama – was simply a routine, bureaucratic step doesn’t pass the laugh test.
  • The plan only enters effect 15 days after formal publication, which is now taking place.

“This is only a technical step” (Givat Hamatos)

  • False. This is a major step towards implementation, and the final stage in the planning process. The tenders and licensing stage may now commence.
  • It should be noted that this is the same claim made about Gilo in December 2009, and about Ramat Shlomo during the 2009 Biden visit. Only technical? The tenders regarding both of these plans have been published in recent months, and construction will commence in the coming weeks and months.

“It wasn’t me.” (Or Netanyahu’s: “I just work here”) (Givat Hamatos)

  • False. Netanyahu is seeking cover in the argument that at this stage of the game, the Givat Hamatos plan is under the authority of the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee, rather than the Prime Minister’s office. While this is true, it is a mere technicality.
  • This Givat Hamatos plan was drafted and submitted by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) and the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA), arms of the Israeli government, as a project to be carried out on State Land. The ILA has/had the authority to withdraw the plan at any stage prior to the final statutory approval.  It did not do so.
  • The publication of the statutory approval of the plan – this final, significant step taken last week – is made in the Government of Israel public record. According to the Ministry of Interior, this final approval requires the signature of the Minister of Interior – a member of Netanyahu’s Cabinet. The fact of publication indicates that the Minister indeed signed on to this decision.
  • The claim “it wasn’t me” or “I didn’t know” is a variation on the standard “I just work here” Netanyahu response to criticisms of his government’s actions. To the extent that there is any truth in this defense, the unavoidable conclusion is that if Netanyahu didn’t know, it was because he didn’t want to know – preferring to allow spoilers in his own government and among the settlers to do his dirty work, while he claims his own hands are clean.
  • However, in this case the conclusion is even more damning, because given all the attention that has been focused on Givat Hamatos in recent years (it is second only to E-1 in terms of concerns over the future of Jerusalem it causes the international community), Netanyahu simply cannot credibly assert that he didn’t know how highly problematic this settlement approval would be.
  • Moreover, in this case the excuse “I didn’t know” goes beyond being merely disingenuous to being outright duplicitous.  As we reported previously, on September 1, 2014, the Prime Minister’s office both leaked and confirmed that Netanyahu was on the brink of publishing 1500 of the 2610 Givat Hamatos tenders – but balked at the very last minute, fearing the international response. For Netanyahu to suggest one month later that he “didn’t know” defies credulity.

“The plan includes new buildings for Palestinians, too!” (Givat Hamatos)

  • False.  The plan that has just been granted final statutory approval does not provide for any Palestinian construction.
  • This final approval is for Givat Hamatos A (Plan 14295). It involves 2610 units, all located on what is claimed to be State Land.  Plan 14295 will lead to the construction of the first new Israeli neighborhood in East Jerusalem since Har Homa.
  • There are three other Givat Hamatos plans in the pipeline – Givat Hamatos B, C, and D (again, all initiated and sponsored by the ILA and JDA, acting under the authority of the government of Israel).

    • Givat Hamatos B (Plan 5834B), providing for 549 new units (pending approval, and allowing for some Palestinian construction in Beit Safafa)
    • Givat Hamatos C (Plan 5834C), providing for 813 units (not currently under consideration), and
    • Givat Hamatos D (5834D), providing for 1100 hotel rooms
    • As matters now stand, the only plan that is currently in the pipe line that will allow for some Palestinian construction is Plan 5834B, which has yet to be approved. The plan that HAS been approved in recent days provides for NO Palestinian construction.
  • Finally, the argument that the approval provides for Palestinian construction – in addition to being entirely false – is also entirely irrelevant. The issue is NOT whether Givat Hamatos is a part of Israel which is or is not being equitably divided between Jews and Arabs. The question is whether this strategically-located site, on land that is across the Green Line, is Israel at all – and whether the answer to that question will be determined by construction equipment or through negotiations.

“This is just a political move by Peace Now to try to ruin the Obama-Netanyahu meeting” (Givat Hamatos)

  • False. It was the decision of the Prime Minister to approve – or allow the approval of – the Givat Hamatos plan in the days running up to his meeting with the President. If the timing of the news of this approval was inconvenient for Netanyahu, he has no one to blame but himself.
  • Peace Now reported the approval – which by its nature was an emphatically public event – precisely because it is both new and significant. Israeli and international media picked up the story – and the Obama Administration raised it with Netanyahu – for the same reason. If Netanyahu had not wanted this story to overshadow his U.S. visit and his White House meeting, he has no one to blame but himself for allowing the approval to go forward.
  • Notably, the fact of the plan’s approval appeared in the press before Peace Now commented on it and explained its implications. It was reported both by Palestinian settlement watcher Khalil Tufakji in the Palestinian press, and by an Ir Amim press release), but neither Tufakji nor Ir Amim pointed to the grave ramifications of the plan. To the extent that Peace Now is guilty of anything, it is guilty of understanding the true implications of the approval and doing an excellent job articulating its impact to the public, consistent with Peace Now’s settlement watchdog role.
  • You can read Peace Now’s response to Netanyahu’s attack on it – and his excuses for the approval – here.

“These are entirely private sector transactions, and Jews, like Arabs, are allowed to live anywhere in Jerusalem” (Silwan)

  • On the face of things, these assertions are correct. But only on the face of things. The recent takeovers indeed appear to derive from what appear to be (with a couple of potentially problematic exceptions) bona fide sales transactions. Were the context routine, this would not be problematic. However, the context is anything but routine.
  • Nowhere in East Jerusalem does Israeli rule disclose the manifestations of occupation, and nowhere is that occupation more toxic, than in Silwan – where it is the declared goal of the settlers, and the undeclared goal of government of Israel (as articulated in recent days by government Ministers Naftali Bennet and Uri Ariel) to turn Silwan into a Jewish neighborhood – an extension of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
  • 90% of the settlers’-controlled properties in Silwan (including their homes) are government properties illegally transferred to the Elad settlers.  All of the archeological sites and national parks in the area – which are all part of the public domain and owned by the Government of Israel – have likewise been handed over to the control of the settlers.
  • Former senior leaders of Elad are now the Director General of the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, the head of the Jerusalem District Parks Authority, and in serving in other prominent roles in other relevant government bodies.  Overall, virtually all of the powers and authorities of the government of Israeli in Silwan, and in relation to Silwan, are either carried out in accordance with the settlers’ ideology, or outsourced to the settlers.
  • Palestinian residents leading the opposition to the settler takeover of Silwan are subject to constant harassment.
  • Notably, the recent takeovers were not initially secured by the police (who themselves are at the beck and call of the settlers) but by the settlers’ private security firms – security that is paid for by the government of Israel (and thus by the Israeli taxpayer) to the tune of $20 million dollars annually.
  • Were it not for the massive, systematic and ongoing support and collusion between the Elad settler and the full range of relevant Israeli governmental bodies – including in the form of large government funding – there would be no settlement in Silwan, including these recent transactions. Now that this settlement exists, it could not be maintained without this high level of government of Israel support. 

“The Obama Administration should get the facts straight before condemning Israeli policies” (Givat Hamatos)

  • Indeed the Obama Administration should get its facts straight before engaging Netanyahu over settlement-related issues – and indeed it has done so.
  • Based on what has come out in public, it appears clear that the Obama Administration fully grasps the implications of the final approval of Givat Hamatos settlement, including those facts laid out above – and fully appreciates the speciousness of the arguments Netanyahu is mustering in his own defense.
  • Based on repeated experience with Netanyahu, it also seems likely that the Obama Administration is not oblivious to the fact that, yet again, Netanyahu appears to be deliberately taking provocative action on settlements in order to embarrass President Obama, and then arrogantly adding insult to injury by attack Obama for daring to call him on it.