Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Thursday that he will establish two new neighborhoods in the south of Jerusalem, although he had frozen plans for one of the neighborhoods himself, and the other neighborhood is already in the planning stages (it is expected to take years for its construction to be completed).
The first neighborhood is an expansion of the Har Homa neighborhood, where 2,200 housing units are planned. The plans have not been presented yet to the appropriate planning committees, and it would take years until they are finalized and approved.
The second neighborhood is Givat Hamatos, for which 2,600 housing units have been planned. These housing units are meant for Jewish residents and are slated to be built on state-owned land.
A neighborhood Obama objected to
Several hundreds of other housing units are planned in order to expand the neighborhood of Beit Safafa. They are expected to be built on privately-owned Palestinian lands. According to a statement by the prime minister, 5,000 housing units are planned for Beit Safafa; 1,000 of them are intended to expand the Palestinian neighborhood, although it was not detailed where exactly they will be built.
Beit Safafa is separated in principle by an immaterial Green Line, while neighboring Givat Hamatos and Har Homa are beyond it.
The Givat Hamatos neighborhood was planned and approved several years ago, but its construction was delayed due to international pressure during the Obama administration. The White House claimed at the time – together with European governments and left-wing organizations – that construction of the Givat Hamatos neighborhood would make dividing Jerusalem impossible since it would isolate Beit Safafa from the Palestinian areas south of the city.
Israeli planning authorities have accused the Prime Minister's Office of blocking the publication of the tenders for the neighborhood's construction. Tenders have yet to be published for the construction of infrasturctures, so it would take a while until tenders are brought forward for the construction of the neighborhood itself.
"Har Homa has 37,000 residents, and today I am announcing the Har Homa H neighborhood," Netanyahu said on Thursday while on a tour in the area, accompanied by Mayor Moshe Leon. "We did it before being faced with fierce international opposition," Netanyahu added, "and today I have more good news: We have removed the obstacles here too." The two neighborhoods, added the premier, would mean "bringing together all parts of united Jerusalem."
"This is not election spin," the mayor told Haaretz, adding that the approval of the plans has been his mission as mayor.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed the announcement. "The ongoing Israeli settlement announcements represent the implementation of the Trump Plan, which requires urgent international action to deter both Israel and the U.S. from their continued violations of international law and order," he said in a statement.
"The Trump administration is now partnering with Israel, through the recently formed annexation committee, with its new announcements for more construction and expansion of Israel's illegal colonial settlements on lands belonging to the State of Palestine. Such illegal activities only consolidate Israel's de-facto annexation of our lands towards passing more of its colonial commands to further legalize land theft and denial of our history, rights, and humanity," he also said.
After the announcement by Netanyahu and the Jerusalem mayor a new agenda was issued for the district committee next week. Plans for Har Homa and Givat Hamatos were however both defined as "outline programs," meaning they are considered to be at a preliminary stage from a planning standpoint and that their actual implementation could take years. The presence of lands owned by private Palestinians as well as by the Greek Orthodox Church in the surroundings of Har Homa, moreover, are likely to make the expansion legally problematic.
Mtanes Shehadeh, head of the Balad faction of the Joint List, said that "Netanyahu is insatiable and continues forcefully, aggressively and violently to trample any chance for peace in the region."
Referring to the prime minister's announcement, Shehadeh said that "Netanyahu is taking yet another step, endorsed by Trump's ‘deal of the century’ that is meant to crush any possibility to reach peace with the Palestinian nation, obliterate the Green Line and push further away the chance of establishing a Palestinian state."
Taking to Twitter, Hadash lawmaker Aida Touma-Suleiman wrote: "’Restrictions’ on construction in Jerusalem. Who is he kidding? Settlement in East Jerusalem has become aggressive. The whitewashed word 'construction' is another proclamation of dispossession."
Touma-Suleiman added that "This is another phase in the ‘deal of the century’ and in the project of eliminating the Green Line. We must stop Netanyahu's plans with a strong Joint List."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said that "Netanyahu's insistence to build thousands of housing units on Palestinian land is a systematic destruction of the two-state solution through the implementation of the ‘deal of the century,’ which is opposed to all decisions taken by the international community.
Left-wing movement Peace Now said in response to Netanyahu's statement: "Construction at Givat Hamatos is a tough blow to the two-state solution. This is the last point that could enable territorial continuity between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, and if the neighborhood is built it would be impossible to connect the two cities."
The movement went on to state that "such a change in policy can't be passed by an interim government without the public's backing. This is another cynical election spin by Netanyahu, who seeks every opportunity to suck up to right-wing supporters instead of looking after the interests of all of Israel's citizens."
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