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How the Surge in East Jerusalem Construction Plans Could Spell End of Two-state Solution

Buoyed by Trump's ascent to power, here are the plans that could create irrevocable facts on the ground

by Nir Hasson      26 Januray 2017          Haaretz
Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, March 16, 2015.
Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, March 16, 2015.  Olivier Fitoussi

Following Donald Trump’s ascent to power, several significant plans for building beyond the Green Line, in and near Jerusalem, are ready to be implemented soon, a paper prepared by the Ir Amim NGO says.

The plans could create irrevocable facts on the ground and effectively eliminate any options for a two-state solution, for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, or for retaining Palestinian continuity between the city and the West Bank, the NGO says.

Plans on the agenda

The document, prepared by Ir Amim researcher Aviv Tatarsky, shows nine such plans for Givat Hamatos, the E-1 area, Har Homa, Kidmat Zion, Herod’s Gate, Ramat Shlomo, Gilo and Atarot.

Two of the plans, which the Obama administration vehemently opposed, are on Givat Hamatos, near Gilo, and E-1, an area next to Ma’aleh Adumim. Both are seen as strategic and their implementation could obstruct a two-state option by cutting into the territorial contiguity of Palestinian areas.

One plan for Givat Hamatos consists of 2,600 housing units east of the Palestinian village of Beit Zafafa, which would give Israel territorial contiguity from Har Homa to Gilo and cut East Jerusalem off from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank. It would also isolate Beit Zafafa from predominantly Palestinian areas.

Another construction plan for Givat Hamatos calls for 1,100 hotel rooms, some of which could be converted into apartments. The planning and construction authorities approved the plan in 2013, but never saw to its implementation.

Another plan, Har Homa West in the south of Jerusalem, consists of 400 housing units between Givat Hamatos and Har Homa. The plan was put on hold in 2009, but in 2015 the government announced it would advance it and expand it to 1,500 housing units.

In the past year right wing ministers and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat have urged the prime minister to advance construction for Jews on Givat Hamatos. But the Americans insisted against it.

“If Netanyahu wants to show that he is no longer restricted by the Americans, he’ll issue the construction bids for Givat Hamatos,” says Tatarsky.

The plan for E-1, east of Jerusalem, is expected more than any other to effect a dramatic geopolitical change. It calls for building 3,700 housing units and 2,100 hotel rooms on an expansive desert area. Infrastructure work was carried out years ago, preparing roads, squares and electricity poles.

In December 2012, following the UN’s General Assembly’s declaration upgrading Palestine to observer status, the Civil Administration approved two plans for a total of 3,426 housing units. But advancing them would require the evacuation of several hundred Bedouins residing in the area and opening the “apartheid road” - a road built years ago with a separation wall in the middle to enable Palestinian cars to travel on it without taking the highway linking Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumin.

It would be easier to advance plans like expanding the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo toward Beit Hanina, where 500 housing units are planned.

Another 2,100 housing units are planned for Gilo, in addition to those being built now (after disagreements with the American administration).

Another plan calls for building an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood instead of the Atarot air field north of Jerusalem. Despite the ultra-Orthodox community’s need for housing, Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitch (United Torah Judaism) rejects this possibility.

“First they must close down the airport and then make the plan, it’s a 15-year affair at least,” Deitch said.

The new U.S. administration is also expected to open the way for settler organizations Elad, Ateret Cohanim and others to settle more Jews in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The most significant of these is a plan for Kidmat Zion, an isolated swathe of territory near Abu Dis based on land owned by Jews before 1948 that was partly given to Ateret Cohanim by the Custodian General.

The Jerusalem municipality has a plan to build a neighborhood of 230 housing units for Jews in this area, which was later suspended. In the meantime several Jewish families reside there under heavy security.

The number of Jewish families living in Silwan has increased considerably in the past two years. Most of them have moved into houses bought by the Elad NGO or seized by Ateret Cohanim, citing Jews’ historic rights. Removing the political restrictions would accelerate development plans for the area.

“In the Obama days we advanced a number of plans in Arab neighborhoods without anyone knowing they were for Jews,” says Jerusalem council member Arye King. “Soon we’ll expose them in Beit Hanina, Beit Zafafa and other places. There’s a feeling that today things can be moved forward.”

Most left wing and international organizations, like Ir Amim, are convinced that the construction plans would create an irrevocable situation in which it would no longer be possible to divide Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinians, if this isn’t the case already.


Nir Hasson

Haaretz Correspondent