The Settlement Floodgates Have Been Opened

What Has Happened
Policy Shift Paves Way for Major New Plans in Large Settlement Neighborhoods
Strategic Shift Yields Major New Plans in Settlement Enclaves in Palestinian Neighborhoods
“Routine” Settlement Expansion
Thousands More Units (via another shift in policy/tactics?)

What Has Happened

Yesterday (July 4th, 2017), the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee approved of a number of plans that together will allow for the construction of 944 units in the settlement neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev.

Even taken in isolation, the approval of these plans is the largest and most significant approval of new plans since the notorious Ramat Shlomo plans were approved during Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel in March 2010 – and this new approval is by no means an isolated event.

On July 17 and 18, the Regional Planning Committee will approve for public review the construction of an additional 869 units in several large settlement neighborhoods: 270 units in Gilo, 244 in Ramot, 214 in Neve Yaacov, 116 additional units in Pisgat Ze’ev, and 15 units in Har Homa.

No less important, on July 16, the Regional Planning Committee will approve 3 interrelated plans in the settlement enclaves of Sheikh Jarrah. [Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran has published extremely valuable tables and other data relevant to all of these approvals, here.]

This is not routine, either in scope or impact. Within a period of two weeks Israel will be approving more than 1,800 settlement units – an increase of 3.3% of all of the settlement units built in East Jerusalem since 1967. The approval of the Sheikh Jarrah plans (along with another such scheme that will be approved by the Jerusalem Municipality) is the most significant development in East Jerusalem’s settlement enclaves in many years.

During the past few years, we have reported on a relative lull in the scope and pace of settlement activities in East Jerusalem. That lull is now over, and the settlement floodgates have been opened. By all indications there is more to come.


Late last month, coinciding with the visit to Israel of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt — top envoys of U.S. president Donald Trump — multiple Israeli media outlets published reports indicating that the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee had received a green light from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to approve more than 7000 new settlement units in East Jerusalem. The approvals reportedly included 3,500 new units in Gilo, some 2,200 in Har Homa, 900 in Pisgat Zeev, 500 in Ramat Shlomo, and 100 in Ramot. The source of the news was questionable, and the numbers of settlement units mentioned seemed fantastical. Why fantastical? Both because there were no known plans that would permit for construction on this scale, and because, based on 50 years of Israeli settlement planning policies and practices in East Jerusalem, the capacity for such construction in East Jerusalem settlements simply did not exist.

Subsequently, in recent days, official announcements regarding plans coming before the Regional and Municipal Planning Committees have provided key pieces of the puzzle, and the full picture of what it taking place in East Jerusalem is now discernible. With those pieces now in place, it is clear that what we are seeing today is a wholesale shift in Israeli settlement policies in East Jerusalem, with implications that are far-reaching and devastating. This shift in policies applies in both the large settlement neighborhoods — like Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, in which most Israeli settlers live today (around 207,000 residents) — and in the settlement enclaves located inside densely-populated Palestinian neighborhoods, especially those located in the visual basin of the Old City (home to around 2600 settlers).
The implications of this shift in settlement policy are stark, far-reaching, and deeply alarming. Already we are seeing a surge in planning/approvals for major settlement expansion both in the large settlement neighborhoods and in the enclaves — and barring outside pressure on a scale so serious that Netanyahu cannot ignore it, this surge is likely only the beginning.

Policy Shift Paves Way for Major New Plans in Large Settlements

Planning & Construction, 1967-present: According to policies and practices in place since the early days following the 1967 War, successive Israeli governments have planned and built, non-stop, in all possible areas of East Jerusalem (that is, all areas where the Israeli government could find a means to expropriate the land as State Land, consisting of 33% of East Jerusalem). Over the past 50 years, this non-stop planning and construction succeeded in ringing East Jerusalem with large settlement neighborhoods, as well as to a great extent entwining East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods and settlements like Siamese twins. In addition, 50 years of non-stop planning and construction led to a situation, starting some years ago, where the construction potential in these settlements was exhausted. Yes, a small number of units could still be built on empty lots that existed inside settlements (referred to as “residual units), but aside from the doomsday settlement of Givat Hamatos, there simply was no potential for major construction in East Jerusalem settlement neighborhoods of the kind that had defined East Jerusalem settlement construction since 1967.

A New Approach: The settlement announcements and approvals of recent days disclose something new and deeply disturbing: the Netanyahu government, in its zeal to cement Israeli control in East Jerusalem, has adopted substantially new settlement planning/construction policies, based on problematic modalities that will allow for a significant increase in the Israeli population in East Jerusalem, through means rejected in the past. These new policies are grounded in two major changes in Israeli settlement planning/construction practices in East Jerusalem, both clearly driven not by any objective or rational urban planning considerations but rather by the calculus of national struggle, i.e., moving as many Jewish Israelis into East Jerusalem as possible.Normative planning considerations are being discarded, and the policies are dictated by the sole consideration of increased population figures.

These changes are:

  1. Location of expansion of settlements: The new plans pertain largely (but not exclusively)  to the edges of the open spaces on the slopes encompassing the perimeters of the built up areas of the  settlement neighborhoods, in effect expanding the built-up areas of the settlements into spaces previously reserved as open areas.
  2. Type of new construction: Construction in the large settlement neighborhoods of East Jerusalem has, for 50 years, consisted of buildings generally of a maximum of 4-5 stories. The new plans consist of high-rise apartments, many of 8-11 stories, and some consisting of skyscrapers reaching 18-24 stories. Construction of this type is without precedent in these neighborhoods.

Timing of these plans: Examination of the documents that have now become available reveals that the plans now in play were all quietly initiated – below the radar, with no fanfare and out of the public’s eye – in the summer/fall of 2016, during the waning days of the Obama Administration. They received preliminary approvals to proceed around the time of the Trump Inauguration. It defies credulity to believe that this timing was accidental. We monitor new plans closely, and these took us by surprise – and there are likely more in the pipeline.

Immediate Implications: With these plans, the floodgates have been opened. Thus far, the plans flowing forth are for major construction are as follows (map):

  • On July 4th, the Regional Planning Committee approved for deposit for public review 948 new units Pisgat Zeev, representing in a single approval a nearly 2.5% increase in total units in this settlement. These units, which will be in the form of high-rise buildings, comprise a number of plans: Town Plan 330530 (250 units); Town Plan 330506 (130 units); Town Plan 330498  (210 units); Town Plan 317149 (250 units); and Town Plan 330514 (104 units). These plans are initiated by the Ministry of Construction and Housing. There are located on lands expropriated in 1980.
  • On July 17 and 18, the Regional Planning Committee will approve 270 units in Gilo (Town Plan 400812 – high-rise buildings), 244 in Ramot (Town Plans 291419 and 483354 – high-rise buildings), 214 in Neve Yaacov (Town Plan 413658 – high-rise buildings), 116 additional unit in Pisgat Ze’ev (Town Plan 464859 – high-rise buildings), and 15 units in Har Homa (Town Plan 430848 – raising the height on existing construction). Most of these units are located in areas that have not been built up, to date.

Broader Implications: This unprecedented surge in the approval of settlement schemes discloses new planning/construction policies in East Jerusalem, with all that such expansion implies politically. Most prominently, every approval is seen by the Palestinians, not unreasonably, as a bad-faith action intended to undermine the very possibility of a two-state solution and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem;on the ground, expansion on the edges of some of these the settlement neighborhoods further “welds together” Palestinian and Israeli areas, complicating the delineation of future borders that would permit two capitals in the city.

The Distant, and Most Ambitious Schemes: It is so far unknown whether the report published during the Kushner/Greenblatt visit is accurate in all its details, and, indeed, whether this report reflects a genuine intention by the government to move forward with all of the various plans it may entail. Some of the plans that are likely entailed are largely embryonic, legally complicated projects in places like Har Homa, Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, mostly located on private lands within Master Plans that are nowhere near implementation. It may well be that Netanyahu is trying to please the settlers without an intention to actively act beyond this; that is, it is possible that implementation of these plans is so remote that Netanyahu sees no negative implications in letting municipal authorities run with them. But there is a more worrying possibility: that this announcement signals a transformation in the way large-scale settlers activity will now be advanced in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s role: None of this could take place without the knowledge and consent of Netanyahu. The fact that these plans are moving is incontrovertible evidence that the reports that Netanyahu has removed previous restraints on settlement activities in East Jerusalem are all too accurate.

Strategic Shift Yields Major New Plans in Settlement Enclaves in Palestinian Neighborhoods

Agenda-160717 Recent developments indicate that Netanyahu has opened the settlement floodgate not only in the large settlement neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but within Palestinian neighborhoods targeted by the settlers, and most notably (so far) in Sheikh Jarrah. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the plans being advanced in this regard; indeed, the current developments related to Sheikh Jarrah are simply unprecedented for this area, and are comparable – in terms of far-reaching implications and stark ramifications – to the moment when settlers first moved into Silwan in 1991.

There are four plans in play, three of which will be brought on July 16th before the Regional Planning Committee, with the fourth to be brought  before the Municipal Planning Committee on July 16 (after which it too will be deposited by the Regional Planning Committee for public review). Looking at the plans on the map, it is clear that their significance is nothing short of an earthquake.

Why an earthquake? Because the four plans – three of which are large, located on adjacent areas of land, and dovetail with existing settlement construction and plans (including the existing National Insurance Building construction, the Kupat Holim, settler houses in Um Haroun, and more) — will for the first time create a continuous, Israeli-populated land bridge from West Jerusalem into an existing Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Specifically, these plans will establish built-up settler contiguity extending deep inside Sheikh Jarrah, linking West Jerusalem to the existing string of settlement points dotting Sheikh Jarrah (Shimon Hatzaddik, Mufti’s Grove, Shepherd’s Hotel). In this way, the plans represent a major and unprecedented incursion into Sheikh Jarrah. Prior to these plans Sheikh Jarrah remained a Palestinian neighborhood that was home to an isolated settlement enclave. With these plans, it is being turned into something else entirely.This is a decisive step towards geographically integrating Sheikh Jarrah into West Jerusalem; it is a border changer.

When one looks at the details, the ramifications of these plans become even more clear and more alarming.

Town Plans 14151 and 140249

  • These are plans for settlement construction inside the existing built-up area of the Um Haroun section of Sheikh Jarrah, on land currently occupied by two houses with longtime Palestinian residents (in the case of Town Plan 14029, a single property is planned to become a new ten-unit residential complex).
  • The properties in question were transferred to settlers, led by East Jerusalem settler activist Aryeh King, with the active collusion of the Custodian General of Absentee Properties – underscoring the fact that these plans are advancing with the support of the government of Israel.
  • Implementation of these plans will require the eviction of Palestinian residents and the demolition of the affected Palestinian homes (eviction proceedings are pending); indeed, a key pretext for the evictions is the fact that the legal landowners — the settlers, since the land was transferred to them by the Custodian General — want to build. As part of any such eviction, the settlers will have to provide the Palestinians with alternative housing elsewhere, but no matter – they will have achieved their goal: the creation of a beachhead connecting Sheikh Jarrah to West Jerusalem.
  • The plans are similar in substance and strategy to what has been happening for years in Silwan, where settlers are engaged in house-to-house combat and working to gradually achieve a wholesale transformation of the neighborhood, in the process actively seeking to squeeze out Palestinian residents and making life for those who remain unbearable.
  • The combination of settlement, displacement, Nakba, and the religious narratives at play in this area is a particularly volatile mix.

Town Plan 499699

  • This is a plan for the construction of a multi-story office building. As of this writing, it is unknown how the ownership of the property ended up in Israeli hands, who is behind the plan, or whether the property is considered State Land or not. Stay tuned for additional reporting, as information becomes available.
  • This plan will be discussed in the Municipal Planning Committee on July 16.

Town Plan 68858  (the Or Sameach Yeshiva)

  • This plan is the largest of the four and the most devastating. It pertains to the construction of the Or Sameach Yeshiva on what was known as the Glassman Complex.This will be a large Jewish religious school built inside an existing, densely-populated Palestinian neighborhood (7 stories above the ground, and six below, four of which will be for parking – map). For background on the plans for this project, see previous reporting from Terrestrial Jerusalem, here.
  • A town plan exists for this project, which is on State Land, and that plan requires that a public institution be built (it does not specify that this institution must be for settlers). This land, however, was given without any tender to the yeshiva.
  • As noted previously in the press and in our previous analysis (dating back to when the plan was originally approved), this new yeshiva will be “geared toward English speakers from the United States and other countries.” In so doing, it represents a clear effort to exploit Torah study to expand and normalize occupation in East Jerusalem (including by making the site politically untouchable, as it will now be linked with religious activities.
  • It is problematic enough that the plan involves building a yeshiva inside a Palestinian neighborhood, but the offense inherent in this plan goes deeper: the Palestinian sector of Israel’s “united” capital has for 50 years been systematically deprived of public investment and public institutions. Specifically with respect to schools, East Jerusalem suffers from a well-documented deficit of thousands of classrooms – and Israeli courts have made clear the State’s legal obligation to provide them. Time and again the Israeli government has told the Supreme Court that it would love to build schools for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, but cannot do so because there is no place to put them. And yet, the site of the planned Or Sameach Yeshiva is an ideal place to build a new Palestinian school, and under the existing town plan, the site was designated for precisely such a purpose. But rather than build desperately needed facilities for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, the land has been given to the settlers, and public resources will be invested in building a yeshiva that, This plan sends a message to the Palestinians that cannot be misunderstood: in the eyes of Israeli planners and decision-makers, only Israelis count; the needs, hopes, and desires – and even legal rights – of Palestinian residents do not count at all. Indeed, the overarching message of all of this settlement is to tell the Palestinians that they are being consigned to the role of extras and alien interlopers against the backdrop of the new Jewish religious neighborhood taking shape in Sheikh Jarrah.

Routine Settlement Expansion

In the large settlements: Alongside the new plans in large East Jerusalem settlement neighborhoods that reflect new policies and practices of the Israeli government, there is also some business-as-usual settlement construction taking shape. These are plans that seek to increase the building capacity within the built-up areas of settlements (filling in empty spaces with “residual” units). Specifically, in addition to the hundreds of units being approved in major new plans in Gilo, Pisgat Zeev, and Ramot, there are a number of other plans for new construction:

  • 44 additional units that may be built inside Ramot (Town Plan 291419)
  • 116 units in Pisgat Zeev (Town Plan 464859)
  • These plans are expected to be approved in the Regional Planning Committee on July 17 and 18, respectively.

In the settlement enclaves: “Routine” plans also continue to advance in the settlement enclaves of East Jerusalem. In the overall scheme of things, and given the urgent new developments taking place, these developments may not seem especially important. However, they disclose the inherent toxicity of the settlement enterprise in East Jerusalem, and the continuing ways in which occupation in East Jerusalem is increasingly indistinguishable from occupation in the West Bank.

  • On 7/16, the Regional Planning Committee will take action to grant retroactive approval for 8 units that were built illegally by settlers in Beit Orot on the Mount of Olives (Town Plan 54734). Beit Orot is an settlement built with massive government support – land, resources, funding, political backing – but all of that (which exceeds what most developments get inside the Green Line) was not enough for the settlers, who chose to also build illegally. Had similarly illegal construction been carried out by a Palestinian, it would have long since been demolished, with the Palestinian forced to bear the costs of the demolition (or, alternatively, demolishing it himself). Instead, since this is settler construction, it is being legalized post-facto (mirroring, not coincidentally, Israel’s policies in the West Bank, where Israeli policy has made clear for decades that (a) the rule of law does not apply to settlers, and (b) that illegal actions will not only be tolerated but rewarded).
  • On 7/16, the Regional Planning Committee will approve the construction of a large, upscale mikve (a ritual bath used by religious Jews) in the Nof Zion settlement (Town Plan 365908). Like the Or Sameach Yeshiva, the construction of this ritual bath – on public land, with public funding, in a part of the city where Palestinian children lack schools, playgrounds, open spaces, and, yes, facilities like pools – underscores with stark clarity that or Israeli planners and decision-makers, one segment of the population counts in East Jerusalem, and one does not count at all.

Thousands More New Units (via another shift in policy/tactics?)

The settlement floodgates have been opened in East Jerusalem, and the recent and pending approvals (that are now known to the public) are not the whole story. It should be recalled that the leaks about settlement plans that accompanied the Kushner-Greenblatt visit spoke of:

  • 3500 new units in Gilo
  • 2200 new units in Har Homa
  • 900 new units in Pisgat Zeev
  • 500 new units in Ramat Shlomo
  • 100 new units in Ramot

The details of the actual plans that would be involved (if the leaks are accurate) remain a mystery, as there are no known plans that would, for example, allow for the construction of more than 3000 units in Gilo and more than 2000 units in Har Homa.

This could mean that the reports are inaccurate, or it could mean that the Israeli government is embracing another new(ish) means to expand East Jerusalem settlements: advancing more remote and complex schemes (mostly private), and/or facilitating the advancement of such plans with the blessing of the government. The content of the reports suggests that the latter interpretation is likely.

Until more is known, the following is what can be said about existing and potential future plans in the areas mentioned by the reports:

  • 500 units in Ramat Shlomo: Town Plan 11094 was the first plan approved following the election of Donald Trump (see previous TJ reporting, here). The plan was previously announced in 2014 (reported by Terrestrial Jerusalem here), but movement on the plan has been stalled since that time. TP 11094 provides for expansion on the northeastern flank of Ramat Shlomo in the direction of Neve Yaakov. This plan, if implemented, will have very problematic implications on the two-state solution, welding Ramat Shlomo to the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat and thereby making it nearly impossible to delineate a border between the two. Notably, the plan is located beyond the expropriation line of Ramat Shlomo. It is comprised of privately-owned land (including land owned by Palestinians), and must therefore go through a more complicated and prolonged planning process than a project located on so-called “state land” (known as “reparcelization”). The plan, as initially approved by the municipal planning committee on November 23, 2016, would ultimately allow for the construction of an additional 500 units. As explained in previous TJ reporting, the Municipality’s role in the approval of TP 11094 is limited largely to an advisory capacity. The real authority required to approve the Plan is vested in the Regional Planning Committee, which operates within the framework of the Ministry of Interior.
  • 2200 units in Har Homa: Potential large-scale construction in Har Homa requires special attention and concern. It appears that this relates to a new Master Plan for Har Homa (which has yet to be assigned a number), and it is likely that this new Master Plan will include construction in the area known as Har Homa West (the plan for which already exists – Town Plan 13308). The Har Homa West plan – comprising 2200 units, to be built between Har Homa and Givat Hamatos – is in an embryonic stage. The plan is located beyond the expropriation line of Har Homa, on lands that includes a complex mix of ownership. Both the land ownership and the landscape of its location makes this project difficult to implement. If implemented, this project – together with Givat Hamatos – will complete the “seal” between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, severely undermining the two-state solution. This project is also not new; see previous TJ reporting here. (Another possibility is that the 2200 units are part of an expansion of Har Homa to the east and south, in the area known as Khirbet Mazmoriyah – although thus far there are no specific indications that this is being seriously considered).
  • 3500 units Gilo: Like Har Homa, potential major expansion in Gilo requires special attention and concern. Apparently in this case, as with Har Homa, the leak is referring to a new Master Plan for Gilo South; in this case, that Master Plan has been assigned a planning number, Town Plan 125195. A plan likely to be included in TP 125195 is Ahuzat Nof Gilo, which is in an embryonic stage, having not been approved or advanced in any significant way. The Ahuzat Nof Gilo plan provides for the construction of 2500 new units, located beyond the expropriation land Gilo, in the direction of Bethlehem and the Bethlehem checkpoint, on mainly private land (including Palestinian private land acquired by Israeli developers and “church” lands). While no formal Town Plan has yet been filed with the municipality (the first step before any plan can be advanced), this project is not new; see previous TJ reporting from August 2016, when it was last in the news, and before that in 2012 (demonstrating a truism about Jerusalem settlement plans – every plan should be taken seriously, because a plan shelved today will almost certainly be taken up again at some point in the future).

Until now, construction in the large settlement neighborhoods of East Jerusalem has taken place on lands expropriated by Israel in several waves after 1967. In April 1995, Israel committed to the US government that there would be no additional expropriations; in the ensuing years, the government of Israel built intensively on the expropriated lands, for the most part exhausting them. This means that major expansion of existing settlements in East Jerusalem, or construction of new East Jerusalem settlements, can no longer be significantly advanced using state land or expropriated land.

Givat Hamatos was the first large-scale plan that had to contend with complicated land issues like those at play in the above-discussed cases. The lands on which Givat Hamatos is planned were not expropriated by Israel. Rather, the lands are owned by various churches, private Palestinian owners, the Custodian of Absentee Property, and private Israeli developers. Consequently, the planning process – which involved a complex and controversial reparcelization process – has taken 25 years (and construction has still not commenced, for reasons unrelated to that process).

It appears that the Givat Hamatos case is illustrative of what may be happening now with potential expansion in Ramat Shlomo, Har Homa, and Gilo: similarly complicated land ownership is the common denominator between Town Plan 11094 of Ramat Shlomo, Mordot Gilo South, Har Homa West and Ahuzat Nof Gilo, and in all likelihood almost all of the areas to be included in the Master Plans for Gilo and Har Homa. Being beyond the post-1967 expropriation lines, these areas are overwhelmingly on privately owned properties that will require private initiatives, but in each case there are indications of governmental support. In the case of Ramat Shlomo, the plan is been advanced with the full cooperation of the Israeli Land Authority (ILA) and the municipality. In the case of Har Homa west, Peace Now has been able to demonstrate that this plan appeared in 2014 as one of the projects advanced by the Ministry of Construction.

Finally, it is worth noting that Givat Hamatos remains on hold – for now. In an interview on Israel broadcast news around the time of the Kushner-Greenblatt visits, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin said there was no limitation on construction in Jerusalem except in Givat Hamatos. Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Meir Turgeman – who was the source of the leaks about impending settlement approvals – was also quoted saying that he hoped that Givat Hamatos would be included in the mix of the plans that are been expedited – a further indication that the government is still holding off on the implementation of that plan. These are positive signs but pressure could change Netanyahu’s calculus at any point in time.