Israel Promotes Jerusalem Settlement Project, Bid Ends Two Days Before Biden Takes Office

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Port cabins in Givat Hamatos, February 20, 2020.
Port cabins in Givat Hamatos, February 20, 2020.Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

The Israel Lands Authority issued a call for tenders Sunday for construction of a new neighborhood in Jerusalem beyond the pre-1967 border after being suspended for years.

The plans for the neighborhood, which would cut off the Palestinian town of Beit Safafa from surrounding towns, were drawn up several years ago, but were frozen following international opposition.

The final date for submitting a tender is January 18, 2021, two days  before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Under former President Barack Obama, the United States strongly opposed construction at Givat Hamatos, located in southern Jerusalem, arguing that it would make a future division of Jerusalem impossible.

The tender published Sunday includes 180 more units than were originally planned for the first phase of the neighborhood's construction, and 1,357 homes are currently planned.

Most of the thousands of homes planned for Givat Hamatos are meant for Jewish residents, and a few for an expansion of Beit Safafa.

The PLO denounced Israel’s planned construction of 1,257 new settlement units between the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

“Israel is trying to benefit from the unlimited support of the current US administration, which has provided it with all possible support for the sake of settlement expansion and the takeover of more Palestinian lands,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israeli anti-occupation group Peace Now also commented that construction in this area would prevent a future Palestinian state from having territorial continuity and is thus a "lethal blow" to the possibility of a two-state solution.

"The government which was established to tackle the coronavirus crisis is taking advantage of the twilight days of the Trump administration to create facts on the ground," the group said, urging coalition members, namely Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, "to prevent this disaster and stop the tender before bids are submitted."

Haaretz reported last week that the land authority and Jerusalem city officials had been asked to speed up the approval process for construction over the Green Line to pre-empt anticipated U.S. pressure against such plans from a new White House. 

After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, U.S. pressure against construction in Givat Hamatos ceased and plans for the new neighborhood moved ahead. In February, the Israel Lands Authority announced that it was ready to issue tenders, but postponed the process several times for reasons that were unclear.

The right wing accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of delaying the project because of international objections.

In 2010, a serious diplomatic incident occurred when during a visit to Israel by Biden, then Obama’s vice president, the District Planning and Building Committee approved construction of hundreds of homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. The White House was furious over the move, which led to a long freeze on construction in East Jerusalem.

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