Here is a statistic that should raise a red flag with anyone who wishes to keep Jerusalem united and complete: The percentage of Jews in eastern Jerusalem has declined in recent years from about 50 percent to around 40 percent! Despite the fact that this important statistic is no secret, no one has yet given an opinion about it since it was published by the Jerusalem Institute of Policy Research in its “Facts and Trends for 2018” report, which was published several weeks ago.
This has far-reaching significance—the reduced construction for Jews in the eastern part of the city over recent decades has taken its toll. This is not just a general concern about the ratio of Jews to Arabs in Greater Jerusalem, but rather the ratio between Jews and Arabs in the parts of Jerusalem liberated in the 1967 Six-Day War, where the Palestinians strive to make their capital.
This population reduction has been a consistent process and has one principal reason: Israel greatly reduced construction intended for Jews in the eastern part of the city because of pressure exerted by the United States during the Bush, Obama and Trump eras. The truth is that the last two neighborhoods Israel established in eastern Jerusalem were in the 1990s: Har Homa and Ramat Shlomo. Together, both of them number some 35,000 residents. To this day, both of them are subject to development and construction limitations in place due to U.S. pressure. Since Har Homa and Ramat Shlomo, Israel has not founded one new neighborhood in east Jerusalem!
Eastern Jerusalem, if you need to be reminded, is not an isolated settlement or a fringe outpost. Some 40 percent of the city’s Jews, some 215,000 people, live in east Jerusalem. Altogether, the area makes up about 61 percent of the total population.
Despite this, the “Biden protocol” is still valid. This refers to the protocols for Jerusalem’s planning committees during the Obama era, requiring them to coordinate every building permit or development plan for Jerusalem land liberated in 1967 with the Prime Minister’s Office. This protocol, whose very memory should disappear from the world, exists despite the great alliance between U.S President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Because the approval of any building or development plan in eastern Jerusalem must be done through the Prime Minister’s Office, construction in eastern Jerusalem is still approved sparingly today.
In 2017, Trump’s first year, only 451 new housing units for Jews in east Jerusalem were approved, even less than the yearly average for the eight Obama years, which stood at 555 housing units annually.
Make no mistake, this is a badge of shame—first of all for the Israeli government and only afterwards for the American administration. Although it is the United States that presses to slow down and freeze construction, Israel is the one in practice doing the freezing. It has frozen construction in Givat Hamatos, and in the planned neighborhood bridging between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, known as the E1 plan. These planned neighborhoods have great strategic importance for the continuity of Jerusalem, to prevent its division, yet construction is frozen.
We do not know how long the Trump era will last, at least with its current attitude regarding Israel. We should take advantage of it now to push for a great building campaign in Greater Jerusalem. This is a window of opportunity that comes once in a lifetime and must not be missed.
We should be investing much more to harness the friendship and understandings between Netanyahu and Trump. Netanyahu’s power of persuasion with the current administration in Washington can relax American pressure and bring about a significant construction push in Jerusalem. If we do not rush to do this now, we will soon discover that the price of wasting this opportunity far outweighs the symbolic political advantage of transferring the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.