Fearing a Biden Settlement Freeze, Tel Aviv Expedites Construction beyond Green Line
By Staff, Agencies
Al-Quds [Jerusalem] City Hall and the so-called “Israel” Lands Authority have been identifying and expediting approval of building plans of construction beyond the Green Line over the next two months, to prevent them from being stopped once Joe Biden enters the White House in January. Once the administration in Washington changes, the municipality and the Lands Authority expect a construction freeze.
Biden had an important role in the building freeze in al-Quds during the administration of Barack Obama. In 2010 he visited the “Israeli” entity as vice president. A short time after he had a festive dinner with “Israeli” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the al-Quds [Jerusalem] regional planning and building committee released an announcement of a plan to build 1,800 new settlement units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, over the Green Line.
Biden and senior Obama administration officials were furious about the announcement and saw it as a humiliation of Biden, who was trying to promote the renewal of the talks with the Palestinians. As a result, a serious diplomatic crisis broke out with the United States and for a number of years, construction over the Green Line in Jerusalem was frozen in practice. All sensitive construction plans required the approval of the Prime Minister’s Office, which didn’t grant it.
When Donald Trump entered the White House four years ago, this construction was unfrozen. The Ramat Shlomo plan, which in the meantime earned the nickname “the Biden neighborhood,” was completed, and hundreds of other units were built in the Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa neighborhoods, as well as in other places.
Recently, after the results of the US presidential election became clear, officials in the city engineer’s office and the urban planning division in al-Quds [Jerusalem] City Hall were instructed to speed up the approval of building plans beyond the Green Line out of fears that it would be much more difficult to approve them after the change of administrations. The large plans for construction for “Israelis” over the Green Line include thousands of units in Givat Hamatos, Har Homa, Atarot and other neighborhoods.
One of the neighborhoods at the center of the clash with the Americans under Obama was Givat Hamatos. For the US administration, this neighborhood was especially sensitive because it could block the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa from all sides – and in the opinion of many, would end any possibility of dividing al-Quds in the future.
Even though the present administration has not imposed any limitations on the “Israeli” entity, the government has avoided building the new neighborhood in Givat Hamatos – in spite of an explicit commitment by Netanyahu on the matter. In February, the so-called Lands Authority announced a bidding process for the start of construction in Givat Hamatos, but the publication of the pamphlet with the details of the process has been postponed three times since then.
The latest date it was supposed to be released was 10 days ago. Officials in city hall said the reason for the delay was not diplomatic but a disagreement between the city and the so-called “Housing Ministry” and the “Lands Authority” over the funding for the infrastructure for the neighborhood. These officials said they expect the bid to be published before January 20, 2020 – the day Biden is to be sworn in as president.
Netanyahu has been attacked from the right for delaying the construction in Givat Hamatos and not taking advantage enough of Trump’s time in the White House to advance other plans in East al-Quds [Jerusalem]. “The problem is Bibi, not Biden. He is the only guilty party in the construction freeze in Jerusalem [al-Quds],” said city council member Arieh King.
At the same time, the government is also being criticized for promoting this construction. The Netanyahu government is exploiting the last days of the Trump administration to quickly take action and prevent at any price a future arrangement, while cynically taking advantage of the change of administrations in the United States, said Aviv Tatarsky of the left-wing Ir Amim nonprofit.
The al-Quds municipality said in response it was working vigorously to advance all construction projects throughout the city to increase the supply of residential units, employment and hotels in al-Quds.