On August 15, a new tender was announced and appeared on the Israel Lands Authority website, for 603 new housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo (assuming families with an average of four children – a conservative estimate for an Orthodox settlement – this works out to nearly 2500 new residents). The full binding terms of the actual tender have not yet been published and the announcement states that “the tender documents will be published in the near future.” These tenders are no small thing – they are part of the notorious Town Plan number 11085, aka the “Biden plan,” so nicknamed because the plan was approved during a visit of then-Vice President Biden to Israel in 2010 (background here and here). That plan provides for construction of a total 1531 units – the 603 are the remaining units for which building permits have not already been (construction has already started on the rest). However, so far the only place in the press in which this apparently appeared was on Israel Broadcast Authority radio news. The fact that the implementation of such a controversial plan went almost unnoticed is a sign of the times – and the times are not good.
The fact that this approval took place at this time merits scrutiny. Since President Trump announced his shift in U.S. policy on Jerusalem last December, there has been a lull in terms of new government-backed settlement construction in East Jerusalem – with no major new announcements, no new tenders published, no new plans approved, no new,statutory approvals, etc. While it is impossible to say for certain the reason behind the lull, it is possible that it was linked to President Trump’s announcement, with Netanyahu either acting on his own to show some restraint in order not to further exacerbate tensions in relation to Jerusalem, which were already high in the wake of the move of the US embassy. Alternatively, the lull might also be Netanyahu’s response to Ambassador Friedman’s telling him (according to Netanyahu) that Israel “can be a pig but don’t be a chazer” (Yiddish for “piggish,” meaning greedy to the point of selfishness) when it comes to settlements, or for some other reason all together.
Regardless, the publication of these Ramat Shlomo tenders suggests that this period of restraint is over. And just it cannot be said for certain why it began, it cannot be said for certain why it is ending now – but it could be reasonably speculated that this shift it linked to a media report, only days before the tenders were published, accusing Prime Minister Netanyahu of freezing construction for Jews in East Jerusalem. With Netanyahu under serious pressure and on the defensive over current events in Gaza, the timing of that report, targeting Netanyahu on the sensitive issues of Jerusalem and settlements, seems more than coincidental.