Jerusalem panel advances new Jewish neighborhood that would bisect Palestinian areas

District Planning and Building Committee approves project in Lower Aqueduct that breaks up contiguity between Sur Baher and Beit Safafa, complicating prospects for 2-state solution

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Workers take a break before European Union officials visit the construction site for the Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, November 16, 2020. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo/ File)
Workers take a break before European Union officials visit the construction site for the Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, November 16, 2020. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo/ File)

A Jerusalem municipal body on Monday advanced a controversial plan for a new Jewish neighborhood that would break up contiguity between Palestinian areas of the city, which advocates of a two-state solution argue is critical for the framework to be viable.

The plan to build 1,4000 housing units in an area known as the Lower Aqueduct, northwest of Bethlehem, was advanced by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee through an earlier planning stage known as deposit.

The new neighborhood will straddle both sides of the Green Line and connect the East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa. It will also prevent contiguity between the Palestinian neighborhoods of Beit Safafa and Sur Baher and block broader Palestinian contiguity between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Left-wing groups that back a two-state solution argue that contiguity between Palestinian areas in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is essential for a future state to be viable.

But the Israeli government views Jerusalem areas on both sides of the Green Line to be part of its undivided capital, with nationalist groups utilizing that policy to push for the construction of Jewish neighborhoods in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem in order to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion has said the Lower Aqueduct project is necessary to expand the housing supply in the capital.

Protesters arrive to heckle a news conference by European Union officials visiting the construction site for Givat Hamatos settlement in East Jerusalem, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Interested parties will now have 60 days to submit objections to the Lower Aqueduct project that will be examined by a subcommittee. If that panel approves the plan, it will go back to the district committee for final approval.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee postponed the advancement of another new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem known as Givat Shaked for two weeks in order for authorities to conduct a review to ensure that it won’t have any negative environmental implications.

A source in the municipal council said they believe the plan will be approved for deposit once the review is complete. The neighborhood of between 470 and 750 homes will be located on the northwest edge of Beit Safafa, nestled along the Green Line.

The land for Givat Shaked was expropriated by the Rabin government in 1995, sparking international uproar. The project was then frozen by Rabin and was not advanced until December of last year when the district committee green-lit the neighborhood through an earlier planning stage.

A staffer from the Peace Now settlement watchdog said that Givat Shaked will be located on the last remaining plot of land on which Beit Safafa could develop, given that the crowded Palestinian neighborhood is hemmed in on almost all sides — either by the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo to the south, a park to the west, or an area designated for another controversial Jewish neighborhood, Givat Hamatos to the east.

Building approvals for Palestinians in East Jerusalem are much harder to come by, which has led to significant numbers of illegally built homes.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, June 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Since 1967, not even one new neighborhood has been planned for Palestinians [in East Jerusalem], whereas 12 have been established for Israelis,” said Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran. “Since 1967, the government has initiated and planned roughly 57,000 homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem. For the Palestinians, it initiated plans for just 600 homes.”

Monday’s district committee meeting was initially scheduled to take place last week but was postponed by Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office. The US opposes such construction in East Jerusalem and the premier ostensibly wanted to avoid advancing the controversial project just days after US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.

But Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose office oversees the district committee, objected to any lengthy delay of the hearing and said she would ensure that the committee would convene just one week after the initially scheduled date to advance the housing projects.

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