Under Court's Pressure, Israel Okays 600 Housing Units for Arabs in Jerusalem Neighborhood

At the same time, Netanyahu and Lieberman promote plans for 800 housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, in move meant to 'sweeten the pill,' according to a senior Israeli official.

Olivier Fitoussi

Israel has approved plans for the construction of 600 new housing units for Arabs in Givat Hamatos in East Jerusalem, over a month after a court rejected the state's claims that the construction plan could not go forward due to a secret decision by senior policymakers.

At the same time, plans for the construction of 800 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem and in Ma'aleh Adumim have also been pushed forward by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The move, a preliminary step to issuing actual tenders for the construction, has been described by a senior official as an attempt to sweeten the pill of the announcement regarding Givat Hamatos, where plans for a new Jewish neighborhood have been halted due to international pressure. 

The state has had trouble recently in explaining to the Jerusalem District Court why the process for issuing tenders for the construction of housing for Arabs in Givat Hamatos hasn’t been set in motion, despite the fact that a corresponding plan for Jews at the same site has been published, though since frozen.

The state tried to claim that this was because of secret and diplomatic considerations that it was unable to elaborate on – a claim that was rejected by the court. "The responsible body approved a building plan. The court has not received an explanation why the petition should be rejected. If it's so important to you to retain the secrecy, then approve the plan," the judge said.

The minister for Jerusalem affairs, Ze'ev Elkin, criticized the plans for construction in Givat Hamatos on Sunday, saying that the 600 units for the Arab population must be balanced with construction for Jews on the same site.

"Anyone who cares about a Jewish majority in the capital of Israel can't promote construction for the Arab population alone," Elkin said. "I call on the prime minister to also approve construction in the Givat Hamatos neighborhood for Jews. Jerusalem needs this neighborhood and over 2,000 housing units urgently."

The plan for the construction of Jewish housing on Givat Hamatos is regarded as being particularly sensitive and many countries are following its progress. Its completion will surround the Arab Beit Safafa completely with Jewish suburbs, a fact that will complicate division of the city in any future peace agreement.

On Friday, following a fatal terror attack in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, Netanyahu and Lieberman decided to re-open a tender for the construction of 42 housing units in the Hebron-area settlement. The tender was published a year and a half ago but was frozen after no contractors applied. The bidding process is now re-opened.

The decision has been criticized from the right, when Habayit Hayehudi called it a "recycling of an old decision."

In a report released last Friday, the Quartet on the Middle East – the U.S., Russia, the EU and the UN – asserted that the current track taken by the Israelis and Palestinians has distanced the possibility of a two-state solution.

It called on Israel to stop settlement construction Area C in the West Bank, in which Ma'aleh Adumim is situated. It also called on the PA to stop incitement, step up efforts to stop terrorism and condemn attacks against Israelis.