In First Since Biden Took Office, Israel Debates Expanding Jerusalem Settlement Project

It is anticipated that the panel will approve the construction of the proposed 540 housing units for the area between Har Homa and nearby Givat Hamatos, south of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2010.
Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2010.Credit: Baz Ratner / AP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

For the first time since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January, the Jerusalem local planning and building committee will debate a plan for further construction beyond the Green Line, in the Har Homa neighborhood.

It is anticipated that the panel will approve the construction of the proposed 540 housing units for the area between Har Homa and Givat Hamatos while another neighborhood is expected to be built in Givat Hamatos to accommodate more than 2,000 families.

Construction at both sites would in effect isolate a segment of East Jerusalem in a neighborhood called Beit Safafa, and left-wing groups argue that such construction would demolish the possibility of dividing up Jerusalem as part of any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

During the presidency of Barack Obama Israel froze construction beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem, with then Vice President Biden playing a key role in pressuring the Israeli government to do so. In 2010, a severe diplomatic crisis broke out between the United States and Israel after the Jerusalem planning committee approved construction of a new neighborhood across the Green Line while Biden was visiting Israel.

Construction in Har Homa is seen as particularly sensitive for the Biden administration and the wider international community, because it is one of the only Israeli neighborhoods built past the Green Line since the 1993 Oslo Accords. After years of not advancing plans in that area due to international opposition, the freeze was lifted when Donald Trump was president.

In the lead-up to Israel's previous election in 2020, Netanyahu announced plans to promote construction in addition to construction in Givat Hamatos, and to build a larger neighborhood in the E1 area of Ma’aleh Adumim. The plan was advanced quickly and Wednesday’s meeting is the penultimate stage of the approval process.

“Advancement of the plan is worrying news for those who thought that the change of administrations in the United States would force Israel to restrain construction in the settlements,” said Aviv Tatarsky of the Ir Amim nonprofit organization. “Either way, further construction beyond the Green Line does not solve any of the real problems of the binational reality that exists in Jerusalem and between the Jordan [River] and the [Mediterranean] Sea,” Tatarsky said.

Americans for Peace Now urged the Biden administration to block the planned construction. " The Biden administration has expressed its staunch opposition to unilateral measures that threaten or complicate a future two-state solution. This settlement construction plan is such a measure, and it merits action by our government," APN CEO Hadar Susskind said. "President Biden and his team should weigh in to block this settlement project.”

Ben Samuels contributed to this report.

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