Unprecedented east Jerusalem building in pipeline
The Jerusalem municipality did not respond to multiple requests for its statistics on planned and actual construction
Netanyahu put settlement construction plans into high gear to punish the Palestinians for winning U.N. recognition of a de facto state of Palestine in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip last month. Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, but still controls the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
In peace talks, Palestinians privately have accepted former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s 2000 proposal that Jewish areas of Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty under a peace accord, and Palestinian neighborhoods would become part of a Palestinian state.
At the same time, they have spent four decades watching Israeli construction permanently change the face of the city, and see every new housing project in east Jerusalem as yet another obstacle to building their capital there. Building for Arabs in the eastern sector has been limited since 1967, something Palestinians see as an attempt to stifle their presence in the city, though the current municipality denies any discrimination.
The expanding Jewish footprint in east Jerusalem also tightens Israeli control around the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the Old City, home to the most sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious sites in the Holy Land. A hilltop compound there is Islam’s third-holiest site, revered as the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven in a nighttime journey told in the Quran. The same complex is the holiest site in Judaism, home to two biblical temples, with the Western Wall at its foot.
Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table unless Israel stops all construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, a condition Israel rejects. Talks deadlocked four years ago.
The renewed construction push in east Jerusalem has drawn international condemnation, as have plans to build more than 6,000 more homes for settlers in the adjacent West Bank, where more than 340,000 Jews live among 2.3 million Palestinians.
Last week, the United States used unusually blunt language to criticize the settlement activity, accusing its top Mideast ally of engaging in a ‘‘pattern of provocative action’’ and saying plans of new construction ‘‘run counter to the cause of peace.’’
The most contentious of these plans involves development of a corridor in the West Bank linking east Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement. The Palestinians say this project, known as E1, would make it impossible for them to create a viable state because it would sever east Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland and drive a deep wedge between the West Bank’s northern and southern flanks.
Israel shelved the project for years under U.S. pressure, but started acting on plans to build 3,400 apartments there earlier this month. Netanyahu’s aides have said construction is years away and his rivals have questioned whether he really intends to build. But the very fact that plans there are advancing has drawn ferocious criticism from Israel’s closest Western allies.
Some of the projects closer to fruition would similarly hinder access from the West Bank. Following action last week, the government can soon ask developers to submit bids to build 2,610 apartments in the Givat Hamatos project — the first new settlement to be built in east Jerusalem since 1997. Once a bid is awarded, construction can begin, though it could take months, if not longer, to reach that point.
Within the following week, officials pushed two other projects totaling up to 2,700 apartments to that same stage.