Co-authored by Lara Friedman
This afternoon the Israeli press trumpeted the news that new construction of 32 housing units was approved for the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Zeev – news that in the wake of last week’s smiles and handshakes at the White House is being spun as a new embarrassment for Netanyahu and a new slap in the face to President Obama. The reality is both more complicated and simpler.
The infrastructure works have started, 22/7/10
The plan: Today’s permits are the final step in a process that started several years ago. Town Plan #8151, for the construction of 220 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, received formal, final approval back on March 2, 2007. Subsequently, on July 22, 2008, a tender was published by the Ministry of Housing and Construction, together with the Israel Lands Authority (tender #155/2008). These tenders were awarded on September 7, 2009. The contractor who won the tenders applied for building permits on November 10, 2009.
Today’s news: The Jerusalem District Planning Committee met today, July 12, 2010, and approved building permits for some 32 housing units, according to the approved plan. The Israeli press reports that another 48 units are expected to be approved next week (Ynet reported previously that an effort had been made to surreptitiously bring these permits to the Committee – an effort that was thwarted when it became known that the permits related to Pisgat Zeev). It is worth noting that a few weeks ago work began at what will be the construction site of the new units, preparing the ground for infrastructure, streets etc.
Timing: These permits were reportedly scheduled to be approved by the committee last week, but the meeting was postponed, reportedly to avoid the awkwardness of having permits for settlement construction issued while Netanyahu was in the US. The timing of their approval (whether it had been last week or today) may have been completely coincidental. It can take months – easily up to a year – for building permits to be issued, so the eight months between the application for permits and their issuance is not out of the ordinary. That said, the government of Israel – through the Jerusalem District Planning Committee, could have put these permits on hold if it had chosen to do so.
The political optics: Sources report that the story of these new permits was leaked to the press by members of the Jerusalem District Planning Committee with the explicit goal of getting them into the headlines. It is not known whether the leakers’ goal was to embarrass Netanyahu by putting him in a difficult position vis-à-vis the Obama Administration, or to help Netanyahu by demonstrating to his right-wing detractors that he is still building in Jerusalem.
Conclusion: The issuance of these permits serves as a reminder that there is a deep reservoir of pending settlement projects in Jerusalem – at various stages in the pipeline – any and all of which have the capacity to complicate peace efforts if Jerusalem is not gotten under control.
Further background on pending Pisgat Zeev plans:
There are three separate tenders pending for construction in Pisgat Zeev, for the construction of 668 units, all of which were issued on June 2, 2008. Of these, tenders for the construction of 486 units were awarded on September 7, 2009, while the remaining 182 failed (i.e. either there were no bids or bids were not high enough to award them). The details are as follows:
Tender 154/2008: for 196 housing units, of which 172 units were awarded and 24 failed. Applications for building permits under this tender are pending.
Tender 155/2008: for 220 housing units, of which 94 units were awarded and 126 failed, and for which 32 building permits have been issued, with the balance pending.
Tender 156/2008: For 252 housing units, of which 220 units were awarded and 32 failed. Applications for building permits for these 220 units are pending.
Two more tenders were issued in order to renew the failed units, on December 31, 2009. One tender (No. 107/2009) for the 126 failed units from the 155/2008 tender was awarded on March 3, 2010. The second, (No. 109/2009) for the 24 failed units from the 154/2008 tender was awarded on June 24, 2010.
While building permits have not been issued for the majority of this construction, permits have been issued for infrastructure work to prepare the ground for the projects.
There was another tender in Pisgat Zeev, offering the construction of some 48 housing units directly for potential buyers (as opposed to big projects to contractors). The first time the tender was issued was in 2003, but it was never awarded to any bid. The same tender was published several times since 2003, most recently on January 7, 2010, as tender no 10002/2009. Only one housing unit was awarded.