The Housing and Construction Ministry hired an urban planner in November 2014 to work on the controversial E-1 neighborhood of Ma’aleh Adumim, whose construction would more closely link Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, in the West Bank.
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The move came a year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a similar plan for the neighborhood. The ministry said Netanyahu has agreed to planning the new project. According to the ministry, the move “meets criteria given by government order.”
Over the years, including under former President George W. Bush, the United States has considered the construction of E-1 to be a red flag because of claims the new neighborhood would cut off the northern part of the West Bank from its southern half, making it very difficult for a prospective Palestinian state to have territorial contiguity.
For their part, Israeli governments since Yitzhak Rabin’s have sought to build in E-1 to secure Ma’aleh Adumim’s contiguity with Israel proper if and when a Palestinian state arises. The Israeli fear is that without “facts on the ground” in E-1, the giant settlement, which has some 40,000 residents, could end up an unviable Israeli enclave in a Palestinian state.
The ministry hired the urban planner at a cost of 3.6 million shekels ($925,000) to plan the construction of 3,200 housing units in the new neighborhood. The information comes from documents given to Peace Now based on a Freedom of Information Act request the organization made. E-1 (E stands for East) is a 12-square-kilometer site on the western side of Ma’aleh Adumim, a suburb of Jerusalem in the West Bank, east of the capital.
Previous plans to build the neighborhood have stirred up major international criticism. Since the days of Rabin’s government, various Israeli governments have advanced major plans to build in E-1, including thousands of housing units, commercial space and hotels. A master plan and detailed planning for the area exist, but all of these plans have been delayed for political and diplomatic reasons since 2005.
The Housing Ministry built infrastructure for 1,500 housing units in the area a decade ago, without proper approval. The new headquarters of the Judea and Samaria police district are located at the top of the neighborhood, but construction of the housing was never started. Before the election in 2013, the IDF’s Civil Administration held a hearing on promoting the plan in its supreme planning committee, at Netanyahu’s orders, but the plan was frozen after the election.
In November 2013, the Housing Ministry, then headed by Uri Ariel, published a tender to hire an architect to work on planning E-1. Even though the neighborhood already had an existing plan, with construction plans of this scale, it is necessary to hire an architect to work closely on the plan, and update it according to changes in regulations and building codes, as well as shepherding the plans through the various committees and planning processes and procedures – as well as making any changes required in the plans throughout the approval process. At the time, after Haaretz reported the publication of the tender, Netanyahu ordered to freeze the construction plans.
The hiring of the architect/urban planner does not mean the approval of the plan, only the completion of the bureaucratic procedures in order to advance it. If the government decides not to promote the plan for political and diplomatic reasons, then it is not clear what justification there is to spend millions of shekels on it now.
Now it turns out that the Housing Ministry paid the city of Ma’aleh Adumim 3.6 million shekels ($930,000) in November 2014, without a tender, for the planning. This allowed the ministry to quietly bypass the public tender process that in the past stirred up so much controversy, both in Israel and internationally.
According to the documents received by Peace Now, the ministry payed 1.8 million shekels ($465,000) to complete the construction plans for 2,000 housing units in the eastern side of the neighborhood, 1.8 million shekels ($465,000) to complete the detailed construction plans 1,200 housing units in its south, and 300,000 shekels ($77,000) to test the potentiality of constructing 1,000 housing units in the northern parts of the neighborhood. In addition, 700,000 shekels were paid to identify further construction sites in the West Bank east of Jerusalem, which according to the Housing Ministry's classification are located in "Non-specific site."
Furthermore, the documents show that from 2012 to 2015 the ministry funded plans for 55,000 housing units, which were intended to turn small settlements into urban centers. These are long term plans which could take decades to implement. Some 3,500 units are planned for Ma’aleh Adumim, in addition to the expansion in E-1. And nearby Adam, north of Jerusalem, is planned to grow into a city with 5,000 housing units. In Givat Eitam, a settlement near Efrat, on the eastern side of the security barrier, 800 housing units are planned, in the settlement Bnei Adam, 1,500 housing units are planned, and another 700 housing units are planned in Zait Raanan and Kerem Reim, two satellite settlements outside of Talmon. In Givat Ze'ev, 800 housing units are slated to go up over vineyards given to Ofra settlers, thus connecting Givat Ze'ev to Jerusalem and cutting off the Palestinian towns in the area from Ramallah, the regional administrative center.
The documents show that the ministry funded a series of illegal construction projects to the tune of several millions of shekels, despite the state attorney's explicit instructions not to fund unauthorized projects. In the settlement of Geva'ot, 530,000 shekels ($136,000) were given for the construction of a multi-purpose building, despite the fact that the plans for the building were not approved. In Shvut Rachel, the ministry funded 1.7 million shekels ($440,000) in development works, despite the fact that the development plans for that settlement were only approved last month. In Itamar, the building of a 2 million shekel ($520,000) public building back in 2013, despite the fact that the construction plans there too were only approved last month. In Eli, a settlement that has no approved development plan at all, public works totaling 3.7 million shekels ($950,000) were funded by the ministry. Similar projects were also funded in the settlements Kochav Ya'acov, Halamish, Shilo, and Tal Menashe.
Yariv Oppenheimer, director general of Peace Now, told Haaretz that the documents show that Netanyahu has not kept his word and his government is continuing to secretly promote massive construction in the settlements, including in E-1. “The government of Israel is not wasting a single day and is investing tens of millions of shekels in expanding and establishing new settlements. Behind the scenes they are secretly planning the establishment of a binational state,” said Oppenheimer.
The Housing and Construction Ministry said it “acts only according to approved plans and based on the decisions of the government and prime minister.” It stated that “no work was done in the area of E-1 during 2015. During 2014, funds were paid to planners who worked on planning in 2012 and 2013. But in any case these plans were not advanced and no statutory processes were completed to build housing units in E-1,” adding all moves “meet criteria given by government order.”