Israel said pushing for massive East Jerusalem expansion as Trump visits
Announcement of scheme for 25,000 units across city, including new neighborhoods put on ice by international pressure, may come on Jerusalem Day
The Housing Ministry is reportedly pushing forward with a massive plan that would add some 25,000 new homes to Jerusalem, including 15,000 units over the Green Line, in a move that may test the new US administration’s understandings with Israel over building in areas the Palestinians want for a state.
According to a Channel 2 report Thursday, the plan is set to be announced while US President Donald Trump is in the country in late May, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem and the unification of the once-divided city.
Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) is pushing the initiative in meetings with Jerusalem city officials. According to the report, the plan will cost some NIS 4 billion ($1.1 billion).
Parts of the plan were reported by Channel 10 earlier in the week.
Galant’s office and the Jerusalem municipality could not be immediately contacted for confirmation.
Israeli officials confirmed on Thursday that Trump’s team is planning a visit on May 22-23. The White House told The Times of Israel that it is “exploring” the visit, but did not flesh out any further details. Jerusalem Day, which marks the capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War, begins on the evening of May 23.
Of the 15,000 units planned over the Green Line, the lion’s share would be in two new residential neighborhoods: Atarot in the north of the city and Givat Hamatos in the south.
Atarot, currently an industrial area near Ramallah that is home to a small abandoned airport, would see 10,000 homes built, marketed for ultra-Orthodox families.
In a statement, the municipality said it had not yet decided how to use the area of the old Atarot airport and was reviewing several options.
Another 2,000 homes would be built in Givat Hamatos, a mostly empty hill that critics say could cut East Jerusalem off from neighboring Bethlehem.
A further 3,000 would be built in Ramat Shlomo, an existing ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the city’s north.
In 2010, a building plan for Ramat Shlomo was announced during a visit by US vice president Joe Biden, sparking a diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Washington.
In addition the plan includes 1,000 homes near Malha, 2,000 in Arnona and Ramat Rahel, and 7,000 in Ein Kerem and other parts of the western half of Jerusalem.
The proposal is slated to be one of the largest housing projects over the pre-1967 Green Line in recent years, a period when Israel faced significant international pressure to halt construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Both the Atarot and Givat Hamatos plans were frozen during the tenure of former US president Barak Obama, a harsh critic of Israel’s building policy in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Trump, seen as more conciliatory on the subject than his predecessor, has nevertheless said that he does not consider settlements “a good thing for peace” and has asked the Israelis to “hold back” on settlement building.
Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers it part of its undivided capital, does not regard building in the city as settlement activity and has said in maintains the right to build anywhere within municipal boundaries.
During recent discussions between Israeli and US officials over where Washington would tolerate building, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not “negotiate” on halting construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.