European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has criticized Israel’s announced plans to build a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem and expand another, warning such action “would be deeply detrimental to a two-state-solution.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents in a new neighborhood in Givat Hamatos, in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.
Borrell in a statement said that “such steps would cut the geographic and territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, isolate Palestinian communities living in these areas, and threaten the viability of a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as capital of both states.”
He said the European Union would not recognize any changes to Israel’s pre-1967 borders and urged Jerusalem to reconsider its plan.
The EU statement followed similar criticism from France and Germany on Friday. The countries said they were “deeply concerned” and warned that Netanyahu’s plan “directly undermines the viability of a future Palestinian state.”
Netanyahu, in a statement made 11 days before next week’s elections, said he had lifted restrictions against the construction of the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood as well as approved new construction in Har Homa. He said he had also green-lit 1,000 homes for Palestinians in the nearby neighborhood of Beit Safafa, which has long suffered from a housing crisis.
The plan for construction in Givat Hamatos was first brought forward in 2012, earning widespread condemnation in the international community over its cutting off of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Beit Safafa and Sharafat from the West Bank, in a manner that critics said placed a nail in the coffin of a two-state solution based roughly on the pre-1967 lines.
Thursday appeared to have been the first time Netanyahu publicly admitted to having placed a building freeze on the Givat Hamatos plan, explaining that he had been under immense pressure from countries abroad not to build there.
“Coexistence in Jerusalem,” he declared. “Jerusalem is being built and expanded. We are connecting all parts of the united Jerusalem. I have removed all the restrictions, and now Jerusalem is being built under my authority.”
The left-wing Peace Now organization called the move a “cynical election exercise” by the prime minister.
“This is the last point that can allow territorial contiguity between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem — the most significant Palestinian metropolitan area — and if the neighborhood is built, it will not be possible to connect the two cities,” the group said in a statement. “Such a policy change cannot be passed in a transitional government without a mandate from the public. This move is therefore but another cynical election exercise by Netanyahu to the detriment of the interests of all Israeli citizens.”
Moreover, Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran pointed out in a tweet that Netanyahu had inflated the numbers in his announcement. The Givat Hamatos plan slated to be brought before the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee next week consists of 2,610 homes, not 3,000, and the project in Beit Safafa is for 805 homes, not 1,000.
The announcement from Netanyahu came less than two weeks after the Housing Ministry began advancing a plan to build a massive Jewish neighborhood in an East Jerusalem area that appears to be earmarked in the Trump administration’s peace plan for a Palestinian tourism center.
The project will still need to be authorized in several other planning stages that can take several years, but the submission of the building plan marks a significant step toward construction after several years of delays due to lack of funds.
The site designated for construction is mostly on state land but parts of the new neighborhood would sit on parcels currently privately owned by Palestinians, requiring the demolition of at least 15 families’ homes.