Making sense of the Latest Settlement Announcements

In tandem with this week’s release of Palestinian prisoners (on October 29, 2013), there were many reports and announcements regarding approvals, or anticipated approvals, of new settlement construction. The most official announcement was delivered in the Knesset yesterday (October 30) by Vice Minister Ofir Akunis, who is the liaison-minister to the Knesset:

“The Prime Minister has instructed to issue for construction over 1,500 units in Jerusalem and the Judea and Samaria settlements in Karnei Shomron, Ariel, Givat Zeev, Maale Adumim, Elkana, Beitar Illit and Geva Binyamin-Adam.  I want to note that the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister Gidon Saar agreed to promote construction plans in Jerusalem, as I said, c. 1,500 units in Ramat Shlomo, the establishment of a tourists and archeology center in the City of David and the establishment of a National Park in the Mt. Scopus Slopes. In parallel, the Prime Minister has instructed to promote the planning of over 2,000 housing units in the following places: Shilo, Givat Zeev, Karnei Shomron, Almog, Alei-Zahav, Yakir, Kfar Adumim, Mechola, Talmon, Bracha, Ofra and Beit El. The construction in Judea and Samaria will continue and grow. Thank you.”

From this statement (reported here and here, for example), it can be understood that the Government of Israel intends to:

  • market (i.e., issue tenders for) over 1,500 units in Jerusalem and the West Bank
  • promote plans for another 2,000 units in West Bank settlements
  • promote another 1,500 units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo
  • promote two controversial plans related to the public domain in East Jerusalem, specifically, in Silwan and the Mt.Scopus slopes.

In total, the announcement opens the door for the approval/promotion of more than 5,000 units, in addition to the major public domain projects in East Jerusalem.

Notably, the details of exactly what will be approved/promoted have been left ambiguous.  Likewise, the timing for implementation of these announcements is murky.  Plans and tenders could be issued and promoted over the coming days or even weeks.  Going forward, it can be expected that when any settlement-related publications occur, the Government will claim they are part of the 5,000 units declared in the context of this prisoners’ release.

Peace Now’s Best Guess as to What to Expect

Based on our information and our understanding of the announcement above, our best estimate regarding upcoming settlement plans and tenders is as follows:

1. Expected Tenders (over 1,500 units in Jerusalem and the Judea and Samaria settlements”)

A tender is an invitation for bids from contractors to buy the rights to build and sell a construction project. This involves a public process (advertising the tender, assessing bids, and awarding the project, or in some cases, not awarding it, if there are no acceptable bids).  In general, construction may begin several months after the issuing of the tender.

The exact makeup of the 1,500 tenders declared by Vice-Minister Akunis is unknown at this point (indeed, it is possible that the Netanyahu government has announced the number without yet decided where all of the tenders will be – something that has happened in the past).  Bearing this in mind, and based on information we have about the potential construction in the settlements, we estimate the following settlements/projects are the likely targets for tenders:

East Jerusalem
A few hundred residual units, probably in Gilo and/or Ramot.

The West Bank
Givat Zeev – around 100 units
Adam (Geva Binyamin) – around 100 units [East of the barrier]
Elkana – probably 290 units
Beitar Illit – a few hundred units
Ariel – up to hundreds of units [East of the built route of the barrier]
Karnei Shomron – up to hundreds of units [East of the built route of the barrier]
Maale Adumim – dozens of units.

2. Promotion of Plans in Jerusalem (“…agreed to promote construction plans in Jerusalem”)

The latter two plans for the public domain in East Jerusalem generally receive less attention, since they do not relate to new settler housing units.  However, their impact should not be underestimated.  The Givati Parking Lot plan involves a plan to build a huge visitor center at the entrance to Silwan (outside of the Old City, near the Dung Gate).  It would have potentially devastating consequences for the two-state solution and for the currant stability of Jerusalem. The Mt. Scopus Park plan, for its part, seeks to “to link between the inner encirclement of the Old City and its visual basin …and the outer encirclement in Greater Jerusalem, as disclosed by the E-1 plan between Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem. The new national park will be a bridge, creating forging a geographical link between the Old City basin and E-1.” (Quote from Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann)

3. Promotion of Plans in West Bank Settlements (“instructed to promote the planning of over 2,000 housing units”)

On 10/30, there was the preliminary publication (on the internet, not yet in the newspapers, as required by law) of plans for 611 units, as follows:

  • Shilo – 95 units – preliminary publication for validation [East of the barrier]
  • Givat Zeev – 29 units – preliminary publication for validation
  • Almog – 31 units – preliminary publication of depositing [East of the barrier]
  • Yakir – 160 units – preliminary publication of depositing [East of the built route of the barrier]
  • Beit El – 296 units – preliminary publication of depositing [East of the barrier]

(all of these settlements were mentioned in the Knesset announcement)

In addition, the potential plans that we believe might be promoted (there could be other plans of which we are unaware), based on the settlements listed in the Akunis announcement, are as follows:

  • Kernei Shomron – 22 units – plan to be published for validation [East of the barrier]
  • Alei Zahav – 450 units – plan to be published for depositing [East of the built route of the barrier]
  • Kfar Adumim – there are several plans in the pipeline; the largest plan is for 255 units waiting for depositing [East of the built route of the barrier]
  • Talmon – there are two plans waiting for depositing, one for 314 units and another for 255 units.  [East of the barrier]
  • Bracha – 90 units – plan to be published for depositing [East of the barrier]
  • Ofra – 255 units – plan to be published for depositing [East of the barrier]
  • Mechola – unknown [East of the barrier].

What This All Means

The bottom line is that Netanyahu continues to play a double game.  With his words, he continually says he wants peace and he is serious about negotiations with the Palestinians.  With his actions, he continually undermines the prospects of peace and the two-state solution, and undercuts the chance for the success of negotiations, by creating new facts on the ground in settlements.

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