A good way to evaluate a policy is by examining the identity of its critics. The controversy surrounding the tenders issued on Sunday by the Israel Lands Authority for the construction of 1,257 new housing units in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos is a perfect case in point.
Outrage at the building plan, which has been in the works for six years, was swift to emerge from the usual suspects: the Israeli NGO Peace Now, the Palestinian Authority, the European Union and the United Nations. It’s basically all one needs to know before forming an opinion about the move.
Let’s begin with Peace Now. In September 2014, the organization that serves as a kind of settlement watchdog—growling and barking about every balcony added to an apartment in an area of the Jewish state that they deem “illegally occupied”—alerted fellow Israel-bashers across the ocean to the fact that the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee had approved the construction of homes in Givat Hamatos.
Never mind that the neighborhood, originally filled with caravans for the housing of new immigrants from Ethiopia, is outside the so-called Green Line.
Forget that the plan includes a phase of the construction of Arab housing on private lands belonging to the nearby Palestinian town of Beit Safafa.
Disregard the shortage of land available for Jewish housing in Jerusalem—a situation that has caused a hike in rent and purchase prices, as well as an exodus from the Israeli capital.
None of the above prevented the administration of then-U.S. President Barack Obama from throwing a fit at the end of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Oct. 1 visit to the White House.
Though the purpose of the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama (in the presence of then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden) had been to discuss Iran and ISIS, it was upstaged by reports in the Israeli media, courtesy of Peace Now, about—gasp—apartments slated for Givat Hamatos.
In a briefing with reporters, then-U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki called the plan “contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians,” and said that it “will only draw condemnation from the international community; distance Israel from even its closest allies; poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations; and call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”
Netanyahu was miffed. “I think [the Obama administration] should be acquainted with the facts first,” he told NBC News at the time. “You know? First of all, these are not settlements. These are neighborhoods of Jerusalem. We have Arab neighborhoods, and we have Jewish neighborhoods.”
Nevertheless, he put the plan on hold. In February of this year, he announced that it would be going forward. Once again, Peace Now pounced.
“Construction in Givat Hamatos is a serious blow to the two-state solution,” the NGO declared. “This is the last point enabling territorial continuity between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. A transitional government has no mandate to take such a far-reaching policy change. Netanyahu and [U.S. President Donald] Trump claim to have advanced a ‘peace plan,’ but Netanyahu’s actions, including promoting this expansion, are clear proof that he is doing everything to prevent peace and a resolution to the conflict.”
This statement is now more laughable than ever, given Israel’s recent signing of the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and normalization agreement with Sudan. Naturally, these agreements didn’t stop Peace Now from reacting to the release of the Givat Hamatos tenders by accusing Netanyahu of “taking advantage of the final weeks of the Trump administration in order to set facts on the ground that will be exceedingly hard to undo in order to achieve peace.”
What the anti-Netanyahu, anti-Trump NGO really means by this, however, is that the above Mideast treaties expose P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas and his henchmen—in the words of UAE official Dirar Belhoul al-Falasi—as “small-time hucksters” who “don’t care about ordinary Palestinians.”
Still, Abbas maintains the charade that has served him in such good stead with his left-wing Western apologists. Responding to the Givat Hamatos tenders, his spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, reiterated the tired mantra about settlements being illegal and part of Israel’s efforts “to kill the internationally backed two-state solution.”
E.U. foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell also weighed in, stating: “[Givat Hamatos] is a key location between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Any settlement construction will cause serious damage to the prospects for a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.”
And then there’s U.N. Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov, who said, “If built, [Givat Hamatos] would further consolidate a ring of settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. It would significantly damage prospects for a future contiguous Palestinian state and for achieving a negotiated two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. Settlement construction is illegal under international law and I call on the authorities to reverse this step.”
As Netanyahu clarified the last time he was rebuked over this issue, Givat Hamatos is not a settlement; it is a Jewish neighborhood in Israel’s capital city. Furthermore, the Trump administration not only officially recognized Jerusalem as such—and moved the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv—but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared last November that settlements are not “inconsistent with international law.”
Pompeo, as it happens, is in Paris, on the first leg of a seven-nation, 10-day trip to Europe and the Middle East. After leaving France, he is scheduled to visit Turkey, Georgia and Israel, before heading to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.
When in Israel, he will reportedly tour the Golan Heights, as well as Judea and Samaria. This should serve as a reminder of two things: that the United States under Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the former, and only requested that Netanyahu postpone extending sovereignty over the latter to make it easier for the Gulf and other Muslim-majority states to jump on the peace bandwagon.
Naturally, Palestinian officials are livid with their Arab brethren for normalizing ties with Israel. They are also furious about Pompeo’s upcoming visit to Judea and Samaria.
On Friday, P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh tweeted: “We deplore … Pompeo’s intent to visit the illegal settlement of Psagot, built on lands belonging to Palestinian owners in Al-Bireh city, during his visit to Israel next week. This dangerous precedent legalizes settlements and a blow to international legitimacy/U.N. resolutions.”
On Monday, he added, “We call upon the international community’s members to reject Pompeo’s visit and impose a total ban on Israeli settlement products. The Palestinian government will take every possible legal measure against any companies or investors in Israeli settlements.”
Anyone unsure about the justification for new housing units in Givat Hamatos need only note the choir of voices denouncing the plan. Indeed, nothing points to the legitimacy of the move better than the diatribes of Peace Now, the P.A., the E.U. and the U.N.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”
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