On Sunday night, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement about advancing the construction of 560 homes for Jews in Ma’aleh Adumim and 240 homes in Jerusalem neighborhoods over the Green Line (Ramot, Gilo and Har Homa). At the same time, a plan was approved to build 600 homes for residents of the Arab village of Beit Safafa, in the Givat Hamatos area of Jerusalem.
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The announcement was meant to convey strength and determination in the face of the growing wave of terror in the occupied territories. Daily newspaper Israel Hayom – the unofficial mouthpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – described the announcement as a “response to the terror attacks.” But a closer look reveals that the announcement exposes the weakness of the government and its leader more than anything else.
The state had no choice but to approve the construction plan for Palestinians in Givat Hamatos. The Beit Safafa community administration petitioned Jerusalem District Court six months ago, against the delay of the plan’s implementation for no apparent reason. The prosecution tried to argue that the reason the plan hadn’t gone forward was so secret, the petitioners couldn’t be told what it was. The prosecution also claimed that the issue had been discussed at the highest levels of government.
The court rejected these arguments and demanded a serious response. Last week, before the murders of Israelis Hallel Yaffa Ariel and Rabbi Michael Mark in the West Bank, the prosecution told the court that decisions would be made that will make the petition superfluous. This means the prime minister had no alternative but to approve the plan for the Palestinians, and the resulting condemnation from the right – by ministers Zeev Elkin and Naftali Bennett, along with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat – was merely populist noise for electoral purposes.
In complete contrast, the construction in the Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line is a cynical exploitation of the terror wave to “punish” the Palestinians and sweeten the pill for right-wing extremists.
True, these are not particularly large plans and are located within the settlement blocs and in Jerusalem. But make no mistake: these are construction plans that would never have passed international muster had they not been preceded by acts of gruesome terror.
The seeming symmetry – construction for the Palestinians, in exchange for construction in Jewish neighborhoods – is a false one. The construction for Arabs in Jerusalem is grounded in court proceedings, real needs and the government-approved plan to correct discrimination against the Arab community. It cannot be held hostage to attempts by Netanyahu to appease the settlers.
The construction plans for the Jewish areas across the Green Line should be canceled and plans should instead be developed within the Green Line in Jerusalem. Construction plans for Arabs, meanwhile, should be implemented to relieve the sharp housing crisis among residents of East Jerusalem.