The Israel Lands Authority issued tenders on Monday for the construction of 1,077 housing units in the Jewish neighborhood of Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem, a plan which had been frozen for years by the Prime Minister’s Office, initially because of pressure from the Obama administration.
The construction of the neighborhood was viewed as particularly problematic because it was thought that in a future plan to divide Jerusalem, Givat Hamatos would separate two Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem – Beit Safafa and Sharafat – from the contiguity of the Palestinian part of East Jerusalem, and the two neighborhoods would be surrounded by Jewish neighborhoods.
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The plan for Givat Hamatos was approved in 2014, but because of opposition from the Obama administration the Prime Minister’s Office ordered a freeze on the bidding for the construction of the neighborhood. In spite of the change of presidents in 2017, the Israeli government has avoided issuing the tenders over the past few years.
Right-wingers have harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent years over Givat Hamatos and said he is afraid of international pressure. Because of the geopolitical importance of the neighborhood, the international community and Palestinian Authority have vigorously opposed construction there.
Last week Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon announced an end to the construction freeze in southern Jerusalem. “We are approving the construction of 4,000 housing units – 1,000 units to expand the neighborhood of Beit Safafa. The Arab residents there have a housing shortage that we are providing a solution for, and another 3,000 housing units for Jewish residents,” said Netanyahu.
The tenders issued Monday are only for state-owned land and are part of the planned Jewish neighborhood, and will be sold as part of the treasury’s subsidized housing plan for young couples, “Mehir Lemishtaken.”
The Arab neighborhood is planned to be built nearby on Palestinian-owned land, but for now this plan is still frozen.
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Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin, who also holds the Jerusalem Affairs portfolio, praised the issuing of the tenders and said a new neighborhood in Jerusalem, “in a strategic place in the south of the city, is turning into a reality. A determined struggle of many years has brought results.”
Leftists attacked the issuing of the tenders: “This is one of Netanyahu’s final acts before the election and this is truly the dubious legacy he is leaving behind him in Jerusalem,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher for the Ir Amim organization.