On July 2nd, the Jerusalem District Planning Board approved for deposit for public review 1064 new units, as part of 6 new plans in the East Jerusalem settlement neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev. The approval of the plans sparks a number of observations:
- Numerically speaking, this is a very large approval. These 1064 units constitute a 1.9% increase in all East Jerusalem settlement units built since 1967, and one of the largest approvals in memory.
- Politically speaking, this approval signals a clear statement by Israeli authorities. These plans received initial approval from the Planning Board in July 2017, as we reported in detailed here. While the approval of these plans at this time, after a year’s delay, is indeed in large part the normal course of events in the bureaucratic decision, the publication could not have taken place without the advance knowledge and blessing of Netanyahu. As such, this is yet another component in Netanyahu’s systematic effort to tighten Israel’s grip on East Jerusalem, his natural response to Jerusalem having been “taken off the table” by President Trump.
- The Pisgat Ze’ev plans are, in fact, the first East Jerusalem settlement plans in 2018 to be published for public review (a major step moving forward with construction). Indeed, these announcements have broken a curious pattern we have observed since the beginning of 2018: so far this year, with respect to East Jerusalem, there have been no new governmental plans initiated, none deposited for public review, no hearings conducted, no statutory approvals granted, and no new tenders. While this lull in activity can be partially explained by the fact that the potential expansion of the existing large settlement neighborhoods has been exhausted, it is also a clear indication that Netanyahu has his “hand on the throttle” regarding the scope, pace and timing of settlement approvals.
- This should by no means lead to the conclusion that until now there has been a de facto settlement freeze in East Jerusalem. Before the Pisgat Ze’ev approvals, other settlement activities were proceeding apace, including ground being broken for the expansion East Talpiyot and deliberations on a major new plan in Southeastern Gilo (Master Plan 125195).
- More importantly, the Pisgat Ze’ev approvals, as high-profile and detrimental as they are, should not be allowed to draw attention away from the most dangerous settlement-related development in many years: we have been witnessing a surge, unprecedented in scope, in settlement and settler-related activities in and around the Old City. These schemes have far-reaching ramifications on everyday life in the city, the potential for violence, and future political borders. In short, the center of gravity of Israel’s settlement activities in East Jerusalem have become concentrated in and around the Old City – from Sheikh Jarrah to Silwan – and in unprecedented ways.