During July 2016, there were several official Israeli government announcements related to the advancement of construction in East Jerusalem settlements.

  • On 13 July 2016, the Jerusalem Municipality Planning and Construction Committee granted building permits for 90 new units in the settlement of Gilo. These permits pertain to four buildings, two of which will have 22 units each, and two of which will have 23 units. All four of the buildings are located in an area of Gilo known as “Mordot Gilo West.”
  • On 24 July 2016(Hebrew), the Jerusalem Municipality Planning and Construction Committee decided to deposit for public review plans for the construction of 770 new units in the settlement of Gilo, to the south of the previous plan in the area known as Mordot Gilo South, across the wadi from the Cremisan monastery (for English reporting on the original Hebrew-language report, see here).
  • On 27 July 2016, the Israel Land Authority published tenders for 323 units in several East Jerusalem settlements(Neve Yaacov, Pisgat Zeev, Har Homa, and Gilo).

The Netanyahu government has defended these announcements by insisting “these aren’t new plans.” This argument is partially true only with respect to the July 27 tenders; it is wholly incorrect regarding the others, and disingenuous about all three. The plans are significant and troubling. Each brings us significantly closer to actual construction and discloses a clear intention by Israeli authorities to continue/step-up construction in numerous East Jerusalem settlements. Coming only a few weeks after the Quartet Report, they likewise disclose an Israeli political/diplomatic strategy of rebuffing and, indeed, flouting international pressure. And coming in the context of the U.S. elections campaign, they may reflect (as suggested by one Jerusalem Municipality official) a deliberate effort to exploit U.S. political sensitivities around all things related to Israel, in order to cross lines that under normal political circumstances would not be crossed.
The details of the plans

90 new units (in 4 buildings) in Mordot Gilo: This announcement pertains to units for which plans were already fully approved in the past, tendered, competed for, and the contracts awarded to private developers. These permits thus come as no surprise. As we have noted in the past, once tenders have been issued and awarded, a sort of Rubicon has been crossed, as third-party, private rights and equities (the people who win the tenders) are now in play. Approval of permits at this stage is usually a foregone conclusion. That said, the issuance of these permits is a highly significant development. Actual construction of these units can now commence – and this is only the first stage of construction of a total of 708 units planned for Mordot Gilo West, a new area under development that goes beyond the existing footprint of the Gilo settlement, in the direction of Beit Jala.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat “justified” this construction with the following assertion:  “Building in Jerusalem provides necessary homes for Jerusalem’s 900,000 residents: Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. I want to get straight to the facts. Yesterday my municipal zoning committee approved two projects. A project in a predominantly Jewish area of Gilo and another in a predominantly Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina.”

This claim is specious in the extreme. In Gilo, the planning, marketing, development, infrastructure etc. are funded and executed by the Government of Israel. In Beit Hanina, all of these burdens are placed exclusively on the shoulders of the individual Palestinians. Moreover, since 1967, the Government of Israel has directly engaged in the construction of 55,000 units for Israelis in East Jerusalem, including the 90 for which permits were issued on July 13; in contrast, fewer than 600 units have been built for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the last of which were built 40 years ago. So much for Barkat’s claim “we build for everyone.”

770 new units in Gilo: This announcement pertains to the Jerusalem Municipality Planning and Construction Committee’s publication of its proposal for reparcelization of land in the area known as Mordot Gilo South, in order to implement 770 of the units planned under Town Plan 175505. The plan designating this area for settlement expansion (Town Plan 13261) was approved in October 2013, but additional planning was required before actual construction could commence. As we reported in IJ edition of January 4, 2016:

On December 16 approval was granted to deposit for public review Town Plan 175505, for 891 units to be located on private land on the southern slopes of the east Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. Under TP 175505, the new construction will extend beyond the expropriation line and expand the current footprint of Gilo in the direction of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala. The decision to deposit the plan for public review is a significant step towards implementation, since this is one of the last steps before necessary before final approval. However, before being able to issue building permits, the municipality needs to complete a process called “reparcelization” (more commonly called “reparcellation”) [involving changing the distribution of ownerships and creating newly-defined parcels of land]…

The July 24th publication of the reparcelization plan triggered the start of the period for public review and objections. While normally hearings (and subsequent approval) at this stage would be under the authority the Regional Planning Committee (which is under the authority of the Ministry of Interior), because this is a reparcelization plan, the hearings/approval are under the authority of the Municipal Planning Committee (which is a subcommittee of the city council). What this means for the ultimate fate of the plan is not yet known. Reparcelization plans are complex and controversial, and can take years to formulate and obtain approval – understandable, since the plans are in effect imposed on numerous landowners each with their own (and often large) financial stakes. In general, the Municipal Planning Committee tends to ramrod through any settlement plan even more quickly than the Regional Committee. However, residents of Gilo and the Gilo Community Committee have in the past opposed this planned construction, and the Municipal Planning Committee might be sensitive to public opinion.

In any event, the next stages are: a sixty-day period for the public to lodge objections; hearings before the Municipal Planning Committee; a decision by the Municipal Planning Committee either approving, rejecting, or making amendments to the plan (as required); and signing the plan into law. After that, building permits may be issued (barring potential legal action against the plan). Additional planning will provide for the construction of approximately 600 additional units in Mordot Gilo South.

Comment: As noted in our January report: while the approval of TP 175505 has taken place only at the level of the Jerusalem Municipality (because the land in question is privately owned, as opposed to State Land), make no mistake: no such plan could have proceed to this point without massive support from the Netanyahu government. Moreover, assuming this plan continues to progress, the Netanyahu government will have to play a significant role, notably in the construction of the critical infrastructure and facilities required for the plan’s implementation. Also important to note:  Mordot Gilo South is particularly noteworthy: like its sister plan (Mordot Gilo West), it expands the existing footprint of the settlement. But for the first time since 1967, Mordot Gilo South extends Israeli construction beyond the limits of the lands expropriated by Israel in August 1970.

323 new units in Neve Yaacov, Pisgat Zeev, Har Homa, and Gilo: This announcement pertains to tenders published by the Israel Land Authority, the Israeli government body responsible for use/management of State Land. Three of these are recycled tenders – that is, re-issuances of tenders previously published (meaning that the earlier tenders failed to attract acceptable bids or contracts fell through). The fourth is likely made up of units tendered in the past as well, but we cannot determine this with certainty at this time. The tenders break down as follows:

  • 36 units in Neve Yaacov (Tender 133/2016, Town Plan 6513a). A tender for this same construction was published previously on August 8, 2010, as part of tenders for 68 units.
  • 68 units in Pisgat Zeev (Tender 132/2016, Town Plan 11647). A tender for this same construction was published previously on May 11, 2012, as part of tenders for 447 units.
  • 130 units in Har Homa (Tender 131/2016, Town Plan 7509). A tender for this same construction was published previously in 2008 and again in 2011, 2012, 2013).
  • 89 units in the Mordot Gilo West settlement expansion (tender 134/2016, town plan 13157). This tender was published without a parcel number and dates, and therefore it is impossible to determine (as yet) its precise location. That said, according to our analysis, all potential Mordot Gilo West tenders were published in the past, making it highly unlikely that these are entirely new.

A map showing the location of all of the units discussed above (except for the 89 units in Mordot Gilo West, for which we still don’t know the exact location) can be viewed/downloaded here.
Strong international reaction

These announcements – be they in part new, partly new, or entirely recycled – clearly demonstrate the determination of the Netanyahu government to advance settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, in defiance of the international community. Indeed, the government is in no way shy about admitting its intention to build in East Jerusalem and strengthen its grip on East Jerusalem settlements. Coming only a few weeks after the publication of the latest Quartet report, these announcements confirmed the government’s defiance towards the international community and the recommendations made in the report.

While the first announcement, granting building permits for 90 units in Gilo, received little attention, the two subsequent announcements sparked strong condemnations from the United States, GermanyFrance, the EU, and the UN special envoy (and, of course, from the Palestinians, who called for action by the United Nations Security Council). The State Department specifically noted that all of these announcements are,

“…part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalizations of outposts, and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict. We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

The government responded by condemning the condemnations and insisting that construction in Gilo does no harm to the two-state solution. This, despite the fact that at a political and symbolic level, any/all settlement activity in East Jerusalem is seen by the Palestinians as an effort by Israel to pre-judge negotiations and to undermine the viability of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. And this, despite the fact that in terms of changing facts on the ground, both the Mordot Gilo South and the Mordot Gilo West plans involve construction that will extend beyond the existing footprint of Gilo (in the latter case going beyond the 1970 expropriation line, the first time Israel has crossed this line with construction anywhere in East Jerusalem since 1970); and all of this expansion will be in the direction of the West Bank Palestinian town of Beit Jala, further complicating a future two-state border regime.

Comment

All of these developments are incontrovertible indications that Netanyahu is in “defiant mode” when it comes to settlement expansion. The fact that he has decided to approve these significant steps in the wake of the Quartet Report clearly shows he not yet been deterred. The positive trend of clearer and harsher condemnations of these developments is absolutely essential in creating a more effective deterrent.