Approval (but only sort of) of New Palestinian Construction in East Jerusalem

In early April, it was widely reported in the Israeli and international media that Jerusalem Municipality has approved a plan for 2,200 new housing units for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, in the neighborhood of Jabel Mukabber. The headlines reveal the spin: Jerusalem Post:In ‘major victory to Arab residents,’ 2,200 homes approved in east Jerusalem; International Business Times: Israel approves 2,500 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem; AFP: Israel advances plans for largest Palestinian housing project; and Haaretz:Israel okays plan for thousands of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem; The National (UAE): Rare hope for Palestinians as Israel approves Jerusalem housing project.

Notwithstanding these breathless headlines, the actual news here is less rosy. As Haaretz notes far into its report, “Despite the approval of the plan, it will be a long time until the neighborhood is built, as residents now need to organize into groups and submit detailed requests for building permits.” And as AFP hints at, almost incidentally, “An Israeli committee has approved controversial plans for eventual construction of 2,200 Palestinian homes in occupied east Jerusalem.” (Emphasis added). However, the finality – or lack thereof – of this approval is by no means incidental. Rather, it is the key to understanding this story.

The hard-fought approval of this preliminary plan in the Jerusalem Municipality’s planning committee is not a final approval, but just an intermediate step in the approval process. Additional steps are required before any construction can begin. In a best-case scenario, construction of any new homes under this plan is years away (it took more than four years to get the Jerusalem Municipality to grant this intermediate approval). In a worst-case – and more likely – scenario, subsequent approvals will face harsh opposition in the Jerusalem Municipality’s planning committee, leaving the approval of this preliminary plan a lonely, and possibly pyrrhic “victory” for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

In short, the best way to understand this approval is through a grammatical analysis of the statements made by Israeli officials. When Israeli officials discuss construction for Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem (East or West) it is in the present, declarative tense: plans are approved, construction is commencing. When Israeli officials discuss construction for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, it is in the future, conditional tense: construction will be approved, and may commence someday, far in the future.