Major Settlements: A month ago, we reported in detail about 1800 units that were about to be approved in major East Jerusalem settlements. Since then, all these plans were approved – details are as follows:
- On July 4, the Regional Planning committee approved the 948 units in Pisgat Zeev, comprising: 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).
- On July 17, the Regional Planning committee approved 869 units in several large settlement neighborhoods, including: 270 units in Gilo (Town Plan 400812 – high-rise buildings), 244 in Ramot (Town Plans 291419 and 483354 – high-rise buildings), 214 in Neve Ya’acov (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).
- The plan for Gilo South will come before the local committee on August 9.
These plans have been advanced with high priority by the political echelon and their approval is now a foregone conclusion.
Sheikh Jarrah: In addition, we reported in detail about four major plans of strategic significance in Sheikh Jarrah that are about to be developed, in the area known as Um Haroun (located between Nablus Road and the Green Line). Since then:
- Three of these plans were approved on July 16 by the Regional Planning Committee
- The fourth one was approved by the Municipal Council on July 16 and is expected to move soon to the Regional Council for approval.
These plans are not routine. They are a strategic game-changer that creates a continuous, Israeli-populated land bridge from West Jerusalem into an existing Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem. This basically achieves the ultimate goal of the settlers to change the demographic border in Jerusalem, undermining the ability of negotiators to delineate a future potential border as part of a Permanent Status Agreement.
Other Settler Efforts: In parallel to the approval of all of these plans, the settlers are deploying intense efforts to further push Palestinian communities from their neighborhoods. These efforts focus on the following areas:
- Um Haroun in Sheikh Jarrah: The Palestinian community living in this area is facing intense harassment. This includes being targeted with additional proceeding of evictions and a systematic inspection of Palestinian properties by the Custodian General, who manages many of the property in that area. The most imminent eviction is the one threatening the Shamasne family, which has been harassed by the Custodian General since 2009 and recently lost its appeal to the Supreme Court. The map prepared by Peace Now shows the extent to which the community of Um Haroun is at risk, as the settlers’ expanding control over that area creates a dangerous continuity.
- Jaffa Gate: On July 31, an Israeli court ruled in favor of the East Jerusalem settler group Ateret Cohanim in regards to the sale of three properties. According to the settlers, the Greek Orthodox Church sold the properties to three holding companies representing Ateret Cohanim. The Church subsequently alleged that the sale was carried out by persons who were not authorized by the Church to act. The court sided with Ateret Cohanim in upholding the sale. The Church reportedly plans to appeal. Two of the properties are located near Jaffa Gate, one of the most sensitive areas in the Old City: the Imperial hotel and the Petra hotel. This area is particularly sensitive because it is the place where all the four quarters of the Old City intersected, bordering not only the Jewish Quarter but also with the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the entrance to the Muslim Quarter’s souk. In addition, the hotels are in possession of protected tenants. Consequently, Ateret Cohanim will likely have to respect the tenants’ rights in the immediate future, and won’t be able to carry out evictions anytime soon. But have no doubt: these highly sensitive properties are in danger of being taken over by the settlers, and as never before.
- Silwan: Jawad Siyam, who is widely known and respected as the community leader in Silwan who has organized and lead non-violent opposition to settler efforts to take over the area, is now at imminent risk of losing his own home to the settlers. This targeting of Siyam’s home is clearly not accidental or random, and the fate of this one property could change the character of the entire area. For the full story, see this report from Haaretz. Unfortunately, the issue has (so far) received little international media attention or public push-back from the international community, despite the implications for the two-state solution, the risks for security and stability in Jerusalem, and the message that it sends with respect to support (or lack thereof) for non-violent protest.
Most (but not all) of these of these settlement developments reveal a significant change regarding Netanyahu’s settlement policies in East Jerusalem. It does not bode well.
Since the collapse of the Kerry talks and through the first six months of the Trump Administration, Netanyahu has laid down fairly clear guidelines to the Israeli bureaucracy that deals with East Jerusalem settlements. Without the explicit consent of the Prime Minister, no settlement plans were to be initiated, or deposited for public review, or brought up for hearings; or granted statutory approvals, or tendered. That consent was, with rare exception, not forthcoming. The settlement bureaucracy was at liberty to engage in settlement activities not included within those restrictions.
The recent flurry of settlement approvals indicate a 180-degree reversal in policy. It now appears that Netanyahu is saying to the settlement machine: you are at liberty to expedite any and all settlement plans without any restrictions — and tacitly encouraged to do so.
As yet, there appear to be only two exceptions (and it is unknown how long these will last): E-1 and Givat Hamatos.