In what is likely to be the first major Israeli provocation to US President-elect Joe Biden, the Israel Lands Authority published on Sunday, November 15, a tender for 1,257 homes in the controversial East Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat HaMatos. The site received its name (Hebrew for “Airplane Hill”) after a small Israel Air Force jet plane (Fouga CM.170 Magister) crashed there on June 6, 1967, the second day of the Six-Day War after being hit by Jordanian anti-aircraft fire.
The publication of the tender comes in advance of the Israeli government’s expected ratification of its normalization deal with Bahrain — and just over a week since US President-elect Joe Biden accrued enough electoral votes (306) to clarify that, barring any coup attempts by the Republicans (something procedurally still in the realm of possibility due to the arcane dictates of the American Constitution), he will be replacing US President Donald Trump on January 20. The Israeli right and the settler leadership are looking to Netanyahu to take steps to solidify Israel’s occupation in the Palestinian territories in the remaining two months of the Trump presidency.
Netanyahu had initially promised to build the Givat HaMatos settlement, which is important for cementing Israel’s occupation over east Jerusalem. The building of this project would extend a territorially contiguous line with the nearby east Jerusalem settlements of Gilo and Har Homa. Governmental authorization of its construction would therefore cross one of the red lines of the international community and the Palestinians. The project would contribute to the severing of east Jerusalem Palestinians from the nearby city of Bethlehem, thereby making contiguity between the two areas in any future Palestinian state impossible.
According to Hadash, “The far-right Netanyahu-Gantz government was established ‘to fight the coronavirus’ but instead it is taking advantage of the final weeks of the Trump administration in order to reinforce the occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
According to Peace Now, the construction in Givat HaMatos will “severally hamper the prospect of a two-state solution because it will ultimately block the possibility of territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem – the main Palestinian metropolitan area – and will prevent Palestinian Beit Safafa from connecting with a future Palestinian state.
“The meaning of the publication of the Tender Booklet is that now the tender is open for bids and contractors may submit their proposals to win the right to build the units in Givat HaMatos. The final day for submitting the proposals is January 18, 2021, the days before the change in the US administration,” said the peace movement.
Earlier this week Ir Amim’s activist visited the site and found that archeological “salvage excavations” have already commenced on the ground, a phase required by law before any construction in Israel starts – to make sure that the future construction does not damage any previously undocumented archeological finds. In practice, these digs indicated that the money for the infrastructure works has already started to flow, and heralds the beginning of work by bulldozers in the near future.
European Union High Representative, Josep Borrell, warned that the announcement of the new Israeli settlement activity would lead to the continuing weakening of efforts to rebuild trust and confidence between the parties, which is necessary for an eventual resumption of meaningful negotiations. “I am deeply worried by the Israeli authorities’ decision to open the bidding process for the construction of housing units for an entirely new settlement at Givat HaMatos,” he said in a statement. Borrell stressed that settlements are illegal under international law: “The EU has repeatedly called on Israel to end all settlement activity, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001. It remains the EU’s firm position that settlements are illegal under international law.”