UN envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov voiced his concern Monday over Israel’s settlement expansion project in a Jerusalem neighborhood beyond the Green Line, calling on Israel to stop the the bidding tender.
On Sunday, the Israel Lands Authority formally opened the bidding process by issuing a call for tenders on Sunday for construction of the new neighborhood beyond the pre-1967 border.
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.
“If built, it would further consolidate a ring of settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank,” Mladenov said.
“It would significantly damage prospects for a future contiguous Palestinian State and for achieving a negotiated two-State solution based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states," Mladenov said, adding that "settlement construction is illegal under international law and I call on the authorities to reverse this step.”
Germany joined Mladenov in criticizing the plan.
The final date for submission in the bidding process is January 18, 2021, two days before Joe Biden assumes office.
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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 Palestinian LIberation Organization 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 U.S. 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.
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.