Slight Surge in East Jerusalem Construction by Israel Since Trump’s Victory

Israeli panel set to approve construction of hundreds of new homes as number of permits issued this year for East Jerusalem more than triple than in 2015.

Construction in in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev,  December 25, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

In the past year, and in particular since U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, there has been a sharp increase in the number of plans being submitted and subsequently approved for Jewish housing for in East Jerusalem.

So far this year plans for 1,506 housing units have been approved, compared to 775 units in 2014 and only 395 units last year.

In 2014 and 2015 there was a marked slowdown in the number of plans approved for East Jerusalem, with city planning officials repeatedly complaining that the Prime Minister’s Office was blocking plans seen as diplomatically sensitive. 

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee is expected on Wednesday to approve permits to build 618 apartments in Jewish neighborhoods across the Green Line.

The meeting’s agenda was set before the United Nations Security Council resolution was passed on Friday condemning Israeli construction across the Green Line, including in East Jerusalem, as illegal. 

But the new housing permits continue a trend this past year of a sharp increase in construction plans approved for East Jerusalem over the last two years.

Construction in in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, December 25, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

The commitee is expected to approve construction of 140 homes in Pisgat Ze’ev, 262 in Ramat Shlomo and 216 in Ramot. Additional permit requests for Pisgat Ze’ev and Ramot may be added.

Another issue the Obama administration had been concerned about was the scope of Palestinian home demolitions in East Jerusalem. In recent years between 40 and 70 structures were demolished annually, but in 2016 the city demolished 130 residential structures in Jerusalem out of more than 200 demolitions, including, for the first time, edifices established beyond the separation barrier.

The most important issue with regard to Jerusalem construction is the plan to build a new neighborhood at Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem.

The outgoing U.S. administration has viewed this plan as very sensitive because such a development would complete an encirclement of the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa with Jewish neighborhoods and make dividing Jerusalem even more difficult.

The tenders for these projects have been on hold for two years. If they are ever published it would be a clear signal of a change in the atmosphere between Jerusalem and Washington.

“The world sent Israel a clear message regarding the illegitimacy of its [construction and demolition] policy,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher for the Ir Amim NGO, which monitors planning policy in the capital.

“It’s time for the government to choose a different policy; to advance Jerusalem as the home of two peoples and to move toward an arrangement based on two capitals in the city.”

The Jerusalem municipality said, “there has been no change in the position of the Jerusalem municipality. The municipality works in all areas of the city in accordance with the master plan and the Planning and Construction Law, and advances construction for Arabs and Jews alike.

"Construction in Jerusalem is necessary, important, and will continue at full strength with the aim of enabling more young people to live in Jerusalem, build their future in it, and strengthen Israel’s capital.”