Remember last week’s horrific release of 26 murderous terrorists in exchange for “peace negotiations”? (How could anyone forget). In the government’s mistaken way of thinking, in order to make the release more palatable for the Israeli “right wing” (an egregious misnomer to designate (and delegitimize) anyone who objects to paying for the (dis)honour of having Palestinian terrorists deign to sit down to discuss “peace”), PM Binyamin Netanyahu announced the construction of 1,500 new housing units over the Green Line, i.e. in communities in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. (AKA “settlements”, a term I use only for shorthand purposes and without assigning any political connotation).
As Ynet points out, this announcement of construction is almost a mirror image of the previous announcement after the previous prisoner release.
Before we get into the practicalities of the actual housing construction, it ought to be noted that there is something inherently wrong with the whole idea of “construction in exchange for Palestinian terrorists”. It gives the impression of putting Jewish housing on a par with terrorists which is the last thing anyone would wish to do. As Bayit Yehudi’s Ayelet Shaked said:
In Habayit Hayehudi, the attack is harsher and MK Ayelet Shaked said that “releasing prisoners in exchange for negotiations is a moral injustice and a diplomatic injustice. There is no connection between construction and prisoner release.”
Former MK Aryeh Eldad similarly said back in August after the previous prisoner release:
The government has made a serious mistake by portraying the latest construction east of the 1949 armistice line as something Israel is doing in exchange for freeing terrorist killers, former MK Aryeh Eldad warned Tuesday.
Netanyahu’s declarations are dangerous for Israel, he warned. “The very fact that the government has turned construction in Jerusalem – which is Israel’s legitimate, sovereign right – into a bargaining chip that exists on paper alone will be a disaster in the long term,” he predicted.
“Israel needed to build without announcements, and without declarations. As soon as that’s part of the game, it’s a problem,” he said.
There is one other problem with the declaration as well, he added, “The state of Israel is announcing that under a future agreement, it will not keep anything outside the settlement blocs.”
Addressing now the ostensible massive housing construction in settlements, from the various announcements over the years one would get the impression that thousands upon thousands of houses have been constructed, and even new settlements established, across Judea and Samaria as well as in “East” (actually north) Jerusalem. If this were the case, although I still object to the spurious parallel between construction and terrorist releases, I would be happy for the building to make headway. The reality, sadly, is rather different.
Rather than new houses receiving official approval to begin building, the same housing tenders are being recycled over and over again, and then quietly but unofficially, almost all the approvals are frozen after the hullabaloo is over. Even the extreme-leftist Haaretz claims that Netanyahu is recycling old construction plans. See how many times the word “revive” and “recycled” are mentioned:
As the second group of Palestinian prisoners were being welcomed in Ramallah Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced plans to “move forward immediately” on a series of controversial construction plans in areas of Jerusalem which lie across the Green Line.
The plans, some of which are recycled versions of older ones that have already been in the pipeline for some years, will fortify the Jewish presence in Jerusalem while obstructing expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods.
The announcement was made public in the middle of the night, in an attempt to blunt the right wing’s protests against the prisoner release.
Officials in the interior minister’s bureau said Netanyahu and Sa’ar had agreed on moving forward concurrently with four controversial construction projects across the Green Line in Jerusalem:
1. The establishment of Mount Scopus Slopes National Park. As part of this plan, a national park will be established on areas east of the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus. The planned park is to be built between the Palestinian neighborhoods of Isawiyah and A-Tur, at the expense of land that had been intended for those neighborhoods’ expansion
Only three weeks ago, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, who is in charge of the Nature and Parks Authority, announced the plans were being frozen until further notice “to examine its international implications.”
2. Reviving the plan to establish the Kedem Center, a tourism and archaeological center in the Palestinian village of Silwan. A year and a half ago, Jerusalem’s District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of the visitors’ center, to be built over the Givati parking lot, opposite the entrance to the City of David. The plan was put forward by Elad, the non-profit organization working for the expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, including in Palestinian areas.
3. “Reinforcing” the plan to build 1,500 housing units in Ramat Shlomo. This means that within several months, it will be possible to start issuing building permits and marketing land to contractors. This is a recycled version of the same controversial building plan that has been moving slowly through the pipeline for some years. An announcement of progress on this plan during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in March 2010 caused a severe crisis between Israel and the United States, resulting in the plan’s suspension. After the UN accorded the Palestinians the status of a non-member observer state in November 2012, the plan was reactivated and has been moving slowly forward since then.
4. Reviving three more building plans in Ramat Shlomo […] The plans do not allow for the expansion of the neighborhood’s borders, but rather an increase in the number of residents.
I could take issue with every one of Haaretz’s snide comments about the “controversiality” of these plans or how they are going to block Palestinian building. The long and the short of it is that no one with any grounding in reality thinks that these areas of Jerusalem will ever be handed over to the Palestinians, and most of the construction over the Green Line over the past 20 years has been in areas which will in any event remain in Israeli hands even after a peace treaty is signed.
The anti-Israel Independent too spoke of surprise as Israel froze settlement building some months ago:
Israel made the surprise move earlier today of effectively freezing settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – a key demand of the Palestinians as a precursor to any renewed peace talks between the two sides.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his new Housing Minister, Uri Ariel, not to press ahead with government tenders for as many as 3,000 new homes in occupied territory that Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Mr Netanyahu made a similar move in 2010 before the last round of peace talks with the Palestinians that ultimately proved to be fruitless.
Former MK Aryeh Eldad (as linked above) also spoke about the recycling of these housing plans:
“These are recycled declarations. Netanyahu promised to build these same houses in November, 2012, after the Palestinians went to the United Nations – and he didn’t build them then, either,” Eldad accused.
We now see a similar tactic at play concerning the latest settlement construction announcement. First, the details:
The Housing and Construction Ministry announced Sunday morning that it had approved the sale of land for some 1,700 apartments over the Green Line, including some 700 new apartments in Jerusalem and 1,030 in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The article mentions the politically convenient timing of the announcement and continues:
The ministry granted approval to 387 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo and another 311 in the capital’s Gilo neighborhood. Both areas lie over the Green Line.
In the West Bank, the ministry approved land for 284 apartments in Elkana, 196 in Karnei Shomron, 114 in Ma’aleh Adumim, 102 in Givat Ze’ev, 238 in Beitar Illit, 80 in Geva Binyamin (also known as Adam), and 18 apartments in the northern West Bank town of Ariel. Only the construction in Karnei Shomron is outside the major settlement blocs that Israel plans to retain in a future peace agreement.
Since Karnei Shomron is mentioned, I can tell you from a family member’s first-hand account that approvals have indeed been given for a certain number of houses to be constructed, and yes, the houses are indeed being constructed as we speak. However the approvals for these houses have been issued over and over again. According to my relative, this week was the 7th (!) time that the approval was issued even though the houses, of course, can only be built once. In other words, the “approval” of new housing in Karnei Shomron is simply an empty political statement. No, the houses’ construction was not frozen, but the government has seen it to be politically convenient to “approve” the houses that have already been approved multiple times.
A slightly different case applies to other housing construction over the Green Line, particularly Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem. Israel Matzav explains that both the Palestinians and the Americans knew about Israel’s construction plans in advance, yet both complained about it after the announcement, and he is willing to bet that Ramat Shlomo will be frozen once again. As he predicts:
The promise to build in Ramat Shlomo has been recycled at least twice (2010 and the summer of 2012). This is the third time. So far, they haven’t lifted a shovelful of earth.
The government’s actions are incomprehensible to me. Firstly, they shouldn’t be making any announcements about construction at all. It is a purely domestic matter and nobody’s business but the local authorities and various governemnt bureaucracies. Making grandiose announcements such as these imply that we need permission or at least moral approval to build in our homeland. As MK Aryeh Eldad said above, Israel should not have to ask permission to build in its own territory, and no country has the right to tell us where we may or may not build.
Secondly and more importantly, the governemnt has managed to anger all sides of this complicated dispute simultaneously: the international community, the Palestinians, and the Israeli left-wing for having the temerity to build in our own homeland; and they’ve infuriated the right-wing for recycling empty promises and freezing construction, and issuing second-hand building approvals time and time again.
It takes a certain talent to rile all sides of a bitter dispute, I admit, but that is certainly nothing to be proud of. I wish someone could explain to me what is going on in their heads.