Over the past week, there have been a number of settlement-related developments over the Green Line in and around East Jerusalem involving thousands of housing units. Despite the change in the Israeli government and its theoretical commitment to shelve annexation and new settlement construction, settlement plans have rather advanced at full force, accelerating steps towards de-facto annexation of "Greater Jerusalem" and sabotaging any remaining prospect of an agreed political resolution. Together, these settlement plans threaten to fragment the West Bank and sever it from East Jerusalem in all directions - Givat Hamatos and Har Homa E in the south, E1 in the east and Atarot in the north – thwarting the possibility of a future Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. These developments have taken place against the backdrop of the Israeli Foreign Minister's first official visit to Washington this past week where he met with the US Secretary of State, the Vice President and Speaker of the House.
On October 13, the Local Planning Committee approved expropriation of lands designated for public use in the Givat Hamatos area for the construction of roads, public buildings and the development of open space for the planned new settlement/neighborhood. The funding comes from the Arim Company, which belongs to the Ministry of Construction and Housing. While expropriation of public lands in lead up to the establishment of a new neighborhood is standard procedure, such a step indicates that construction of the tendered 1257 housing units is imminent. A once longstanding international redline due to its sealing-off effect of the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem from the West Bank, Givat Hamatos is slated to become the first new settlement/neighborhood built over the Green Line in Jerusalem in over two decades.
As reported previously, two sessions for discussion of objections on the E1 plans for some 3400 housing units were scheduled for October 4 and October 18. Due to the exclusion of Palestinians from the first session on October 4, the planned discussion ultimately did not take place in the appropriate manner. As a result, the Civil Administration announced on Tuesday that it will schedule an additional session for the plan on November 8. This time, both sessions (on October 18 and November 4) will be held virtually and in-person to accommodate those without access to electricity and/or internet.
Construction in E1 has long been considered a game-changer in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it will bisect the West Bank and detach it from East Jerusalem, dealing a death blow to the prospects of a two-state framework with two capitals in Jerusalem. Despite these disastrous ramifications, the Israeli government is hurdling towards approval of this new settlement with seemingly little opposition.
Atarot and the "new Palestinian neighborhood" in East Jerusalem
As reported in August, the District Planning Committee scheduled a discussion for December 6 on the outline plan (TPS 764936) for a new settlement/neighborhood in Atarot involving 9,000 housing units, hotels and commercial areas on an area of 1243 dunams.
The plan is extensive in its scope and will create an Israeli wedge fracturing Palestinian contiguity between East Jerusalem and Ramallah to its north, echoing similar ramifications of the E1 plans in the east and the Givat Hamatos and Har Homa plans in the south. Construction in any of these settlements, let alone their compounded impact, will fragment the integrity of Palestinian Jerusalem and disconnect it from the West Bank in every direction. Preventing the creation of a future Palestinian capital in the city will render a future negotiated resolution unviable.
The advancement of all four plans was announced during Netanyahu's third reelection campaign in February 2020 with the backing of the Trump administration after years of being frozen due to US and international objection. While the other three plans were indeed advanced in subsequent months, the Atarot plan had not moved forward until August 2021 just weeks prior to Prime Minister Bennett's first meeting with US President Biden at the White House. The planned December discussion is yet another sign that despite political changes both in Israel and the US, the policies and practices of the current Israeli government remain the same.
"A New Palestinian Neighborhood?"
This week major headlines appeared in rightwing media, claiming that extensive construction is being promoted for Palestinians in an area adjacent to Atarot and Beit Hanina known as the "Lana Project." While rightwing sources are misleadingly characterizing the initiative as a large new Palestinian neighborhood in the northern part of East Jerusalem, the approved building permits only includes construction for a mere 92 housing units. Building permits were issued in the beginning of September.
It should be underscored that despite the negligible amount of housing units approved, the rightwing will likely exploit this project to exert further pressure on the Israeli government to push through the enormous plan for Atarot. Moreover, the Israeli government may attempt to capitalize on the initiative as a means to claim that it actually promotes construction for Palestinians and Israelis alike in East Jerusalem.
In parallel to the aforementioned developments, on October 13, the Local Planning Committee recommended for deposit a new outline plan (TPS 759894) for 470 housing units in Pisgat Ze'ev. Although promoted as an urban renewal project for the existing built-up area, in practice, the plan will expand the settlement/neighborhood eastward towards the Separation Barrier and the area of Hizma, depleting the few remaining open land reserves in the area.
These various developments are neither isolated nor independent of one another, but rather part and parcel of a concerted and coordinated attempt to predetermine the endgame of the conflict by undermining conditions necessary for a negotiated political resolution. It is therefore vital that measures are undertaken to block these lethal processes in this narrow window of time.