Israeli Court Reverses Freeze on Tender for New Jerusalem Settlement Project

Palestinian petition alleges discrimination, as 40% of planned homes in neighborhood outside pre-1967 borders are part of government-subsidized program only open to citizens

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Part of the Givat Hamatos area of Jerusalem, November 2020.
Part of the Givat Hamatos area of Jerusalem, November 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

A Jerusalem judge agreed on Tuesday to allow the bidding process for a new neighborhood in a part of the city outside the pre-1967 borders to resume, days after freezing it over a petition by Palestinians saying they would be ineligible to buy homes in a large portion of it.

The state successfully argued that there was no direct link between the tender and eligibility for the government-subsidized housing program under which 40 percent of the neighborhood’s new homes are to be sold.

The petition by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem argued that plans for the neighborhood were discriminatory, as they would not be eligible for buying property in the planned homes that are to be part of the so-called buyer’s price program, from which only citizens can benefit.

Judge Einat Avman-Muller of the Jerusalem District Court froze the tender on Friday until the state gave its response to the petition, and concurred on Tuesday with the government’s argument that there was no need to halt the tender in order to rule on Palestinians’ right to be part of the housing program. “There does not appear to be a direct connection between the tender for selling the land that is directed at developers and the eligibility to sign up for the [housing] lottery, certainly not at to the degree that there is justification for freezing the bidding process,” she wrote.

Plans for the new neighborhood in the Givat Hamatos area, which is outside the pre-1967 border, have been suspended for years, with former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration opposing it on the grounds that it would make a future division of Jerusalem impossible. In November, city officials and the Israel Lands Authority began to speed up the approval of building plans in Jerusalem outside the pre-1967 borders, reasoning that it would be much more difficult to approve them after Joe Biden took office. The Israel Lands Authority issued a tender for the new neighborhood in Givat Hamatos that month, with the deadline set at January 18, two days before Biden’s inauguration.

Because the buyers’ price program, which sells developers land at a low price in return for a commitment to sell homes to eligible (usually first-time) buyers at a substantially lower-than-market price, is only open to Israeli citizens, more than 90 percent of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents would be ineligible to buy homes in the new neighborhood, even though it is outside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, bordering on the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa – one of the last open areas in East Jerusalem. They would be eligible to purchase any of the other homes at full market price.

The European Union and NGOs say the plan for construction in Givat Hamatos will make it impossible to divide Jerusalem as part of a diplomatic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, as it would it would cut off Beit Safafa from East Jerusalem by surrounding it with Israeli areas and thus break up territorial contiguity. 

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