The new tenders in East Jerusalem – the details
Yesterday (14/10/10) the Israeli Ministry of Housing announced its plan for the next year. Among the 4,000 housing units that are planned to be marketed in the coming year, there are 238 housing units in East Jerusalem – 80 in Pisgat Ze’ev and 158 in Ramot. The actual tenders themselves haven’t yet been published and no potential buyers can offer their proposals yet; this was only an announcement by the ministry on the intentions, which can still be stopped.
While the tenders have not yet been published, we do have a sense of what they might be. The 158 units in Ramot are probably the implementation of Town Plan No. 5330, in the Ultra Orthodox part of Ramot (the Ramot Polin neighborhood).
[An update from November 5th: The tenders were eventually issued and published on November 4th, 2010].
The 80 units in Pisgat Zeev, are probably some “left overs” from previous tenders which failed. On June 2008 the Ministry of Housing published tenders for 763 units in Pisgat Zeev. These tenders were only partially successful. Out of the 763 only 468 units were sold. In December 2009, Netanyahu allowed for the re-publication of the tenders for those units that were not sold in the original tenders. The 80 units now being announced are as far as we understand part of those that were not sold.
What It Means
It seems likely that the decision to announce these tenders right now, when the world’s attention is focused on Netanyahu’s refusal to renew the settlement moratorium in the West Bank (which did not include East Jerusalem), is more than anything a political statement. At best, it is showing that Israel still doesn’t understand the destructive effect of construction in settlements on the ability to continue negotiations. At worst, it is showing that the government of Israel is deliberately trying to damage the talks.
In addition, it could also be a message from Netanyahu to the Israeli right – part of an effort to ease the pressure on him regarding the continuation of the freeze.
In recent weeks, we have started to hear from right-wing players frustration about the fact that while the focus of the world has been on the West Bank settlement moratorium, the government of Israel has de-facto frozen the construction in East Jerusalem. Although this is not accurate, it does have some basis in fact. Since the Biden visit and the crisis around the promotion of a plan for 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem in March 2010, there have been no new tenders (except from one tender just few days following the Biden visit), nor plan approvals, of new construction in East Jerusalem. However, while the moratorium was announced in November 2009, there were a few tenders in East Jerusalem thereafter: on 31/12/09 tenders for 150 housing units in Pisgat Zeev; on 7/1/10 another 48 units in Pisgat Zeev; and in 10/3/10 another 377 units in Neve Yaacov. So these 238 units announced today may be a message of the government to show that in Jerusalem things are returning to “business are as usual”.
The trick of the government
As I was reading the reports on the new tenders announced by the Ministry of Housing, I had an slight feeling of deja vu. Last December, the housing ministry made similar announcement regarding the plan for marketing in the upcoming year. This plan included 198 units in Pisgat Zeev and 377 units in Neve Yaacov in East Jerusalem. When the press and the world criticized Israel for that, some argued that it was only an announcement, not the actual publication of tenders.
A few months later, in March, the tender of Neve Yaacov was officially issued and published. As we were quoted in the Israeli media criticizing those tenders, I got an angry phone call from the spokesman of the Ministry of Housing. “Why did you tell the media that we published a new tender in Neve Yaacov?”, he asked me. I tried to explain that I have the publication in my hand, but he said: “this is not new, we published it already last December”.
Reading the reports in the media today, I think that it was not by accident. The publication today was somewhat vague. Some of the journalists say that the tenders were announced as part of a yearly plan, and some say they were actually issued.
Politically, the devastating impact of this publication on the peace efforts are quite similar whether it would have been actually issued or if it was only announced. However, I believe that the ambiguity of the announcement is a way of the government of Israel to try to fool the world. Today they can claim: “It’s not issued yet, it’s only an announcement”, and when it will be officially issued and published (god forbid), they will say: “this is not new, don’t make a fuss”.
Either way – it is important to make clear that any construction conducted or even only planned in the settlements is devastating for the peace efforts, and therefore it is devastating for Israel and thus should be stopped.