The Israeli government is on an East Jerusalem settlement binge. The pace of approvals of new settlement plans has been so fast and so furious in recent weeks, that even the most experienced settlement watchers are having trouble tracking them.
As we reportedly previously, from March until the end of October 2010 (in the wake of the visit of Vice President Biden to Jerusalem and the Ramat Shlomo debacle), Prime Minister Netanyahu imposed a quiet but comprehensive settlement freeze on East Jerusalem. No new plans were approved, nor new tenders issued, during this period. On November 1, following the expiration of the official settlement “moratorium,” the East Jerusalem the floodgates were opened, ushering in a period during which the pace of plan approvals exceeded the previously high levels of 2008 and 2009 by 50%-200%. If initially this surge could be attributed to a backlog created during the de facto freeze of the previous 8 months, since the summer of 2011 the approval of new plans has been so intense – unprecedented in scope since the 1970’s – that it is clear that the surge represents a concerted effort/policy on the part of Israel to ramp up East Jerusalem settlement activity. [For empirical data documenting settlement developments during the period before, during, and after 2010’s “quiet” freeze, see our presentation “East Jerusalem Developments and Trends” (2006 - January 15th, 2011)].
During much of this post-November 2010 period, the Israeli government has asserted that new plans were “merely” being approved, but that few tenders actually published – and thus criticism of its actions was unjustified. However, we have cautioned that this argument was disingenuous, given that “merely” approving plans as significant political impact and sets the stage for future (even imminent) tenders and construction. Events of the past two months bear this warning out. Now, new tenders are being published at a rate significantly higher than the already high levels of those in recent years, and we have every reason to expect that this trend will continue, with dire implications for Jerusalem and the two-state solution.
Summary of the tenders announced or expedited in the last two months
(Map of recent tenders can be viewed/downloaded here)
November 1, 2011: The Prime Minister’s Office announced (also here) that in response to the Palestinian Authority’s UNESCO bid, 1650 new settlement units would be built in East Jerusalem. For weeks following the announcement, not only were the tenders not published, but the Prime Minister’s office couldn’t even say where the tendered units would be located – underscoring the fact that the announcement of these tenders was made for its political impact and that the actual tenders were not yet ready for publication.
November 15, 2011: The Israeli government’s bureaucracy caught up with the press releases of the Prime Minister’s office and the details of the new tenders were determined: 430 units in Har Homa C, 319 units in Har Homa B, 743 units in Ramot, and 65 units in Pisgat Ze’ev (Ministry of Construction & Housing press release herein Hebrew).
December 18, 2011: The Ministry of Construction announced (also here) tenders for an additional 500 units in Har Homa C.
December 28, 2011: The Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee approved Town Plan 13290, for 130 housing units in Gilo (here, here, here, and here). This approval took place in anticipation of deliberations regarding final approval of the plan by the Regional Planning Committee, anticipated shortly.
December 28, 2011: The Jerusalem District Planning Committee approved two new plans initiated by the Elad settler organization in Silwan. Town Plan 13901, for a new settler-run tourist center at the Givati parking lot site, just below the Old City’s Dung Gate, will reportedly include 250 parking spaces, an archaeological park, a museum, offices, an events hall and a library (also here). Plan 13542 provides for Elad-run tourist installations, a ritual bath etc. on the slopes of Wadi Hilweh in Silwan. These plans are part of the self-declared settler scheme to transform Silwan into an extension of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
December 30, 2011: The first of the tenders announced on November 17 (after being first announced, without details, on November 1) were actually published (without fanfare and without anyone really noticing) on the Israel Land Authority website: 247 units (of the 319 announced) in Har Homa B, and the 65 units in Pisgat Ze’ev.
January 3, 2012: Despite the fact that the Prime Minister’s office was cautioned in advance that the publication of new tenders in the run-up to or during the January 3 Amman talks could be highly problematic, a few hours before the talks started the ILA publicly distributed the tenders (that appeared on its website on Dec. 30), making it a news story in Israel and beyond (here, here, here, and here).
This surge is not over. In the coming days and weeks we anticipate the publication of tenders for Har Homa C(983 units), Har Homa B (82 units & public buildings), Ramot (713 units) and Pisgat Ze’ev (625 units), as well as approval of the highly problematic Givat Hamatos plans.
It is abundantly clear that settlement activity of this pace and scope will (a) derail the Sisyphean efforts underway to resume a political process; (b) change the potential borders between Israel and Palestine; (c) make the creation of a border in Jerusalem inordinately more difficult; and (d) within 2-3 years undermine the very possibility of the two-state solution.