|On July 25, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee is slated to discuss the advancement of 1938 housing units for two new settlements/neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, known as Givat HaShaked and the Lower Aqueduct plans. The area designated for Givat HaShaked is situated on the edge of Sharafat, the northwestern section of Beit Safafa, while the land marked for the Lower Aqueduct plan straddles the Green Line and strategically sandwiched between Har Homa, Givat Hamatos and Ramat Rachel. Both areas are positioned along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem. See map below.
Givat HaShaked is an extreme example of Israel's disregard for Palestinian development and housing rights, whereas the Lower Aqueduct plan, if constructed, will serve to create more Israeli territorial contiguity between Givat Hamatos and Har Homa. Such a measure will further seal off the southern flank of East Jerusalem from the southern West Bank, rendering a two-state framework with two capitals in Jerusalem nonviable.
Both plans were originally scheduled to be discussed by the District Planning Committee on July 18. However, following publication of the committee’s agenda just 48 hours before President Biden’s arrival to the region on July 13, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office reportedly ordered the plans struck from the agenda. The Minister of Interior, Ayalet Shaked, whose office presides over the District Planning Committee, refused to remove them, and rather instructed the entire discussion simply be postponed for one week. Hence, the two plans are now scheduled to be discussed for deposit for objections on July 25, moving them one step closer to full approval. See the plans’ full details below.
These two plans join a spate of other settlement plans in and around Jerusalem, including Givat Hamatos, Atarot, Har Gilo West, and E1, which were advanced under the Bennett-Lapid government, who theoretically committed to refrain from new settlement construction and preserve the status quo concerning the conflict. Instead, settlement plans advanced at full force during its tenure, accelerating steps towards de-facto annexation of "Greater Jerusalem” and imperiling any remaining prospect of a negotiated resolution to the conflict.
The "Givat HaShaked" settlement plan (TPS 969162) calls for 473 housing units on 38.7 dunams of land located in Sharafat, the northwestern part of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. Although the plan is designated for land directly adjacent to the built-up area of Sharafat, the Jerusalem Municipality describes it as detached from existing neighborhoods. Despite its location, the plan is not allocated for the development of Sharafat, but rather for the establishment of a new Israeli settlement replete with allotted spaces for synagogues and mikvehs. Requests by the Beit Safafa community council to designate the plan for the development needs of the neighborhood were rejected. In a similar fashion, the remaining land reserves on the eastern edge of Beit Safafa, which could have addressed the neighborhood's housing needs, were depleted to advance construction of the Israeli settlement of Givat Hamatos.
The Link between the General Custodian, Settlement of Land Title and Settlement Expansion
A large portion of the land marked in the Givat HaShaked plan is managed by the General Custodian—a department within the Ministry of Justice who is responsible for administering properties, which were owned by Jews in East Jerusalem prior to 1948. Its management of parts of this land indicate that properties in the area were allegedly once owned by Jews. As in the eviction cases in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters law is essentially being applied here to utilize this land for the expansion of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. In a highly unusual and unprecedented move, the General Custodian, who typically administers properties whose Jewish claimants are unknown until they or their heirs are located, has gone beyond simple property management to rather initiating a zoning plan for this new settlement.
As previously reported, Ir Amim discovered that settlement of land title procedures (formal land registration) are being carried out on the precise bloc of land marked for Givat HaShaked. Notably, the General Custodian is one of the state institutions formally and integrally involved in the settlement of title process. Since the Israeli government announced its decision in 2018 to undertake settlement of land title procedures in East Jerusalem for the first time since 1967, there has been grave concern that these proceedings would be exploited to dispossess Palestinians of their lands and expand Israeli control over more territory. Indeed implementation of these procedures over the past year confirms that they are being used for the benefit of the state and/or Jews with budgets designated for Palestinians.
These procedures are being conducted within the framework of Government Decision 3790, which is intended to ostensibly promote socio-economic development in East Jerusalem through a 2.1 billion investment over a five-year period. Although characterized as a measure aimed at “creating a better future” for Palestinian residents, these proceedings have largely been utilized to formally register land of existing Israeli settlements and/or areas earmarked for new settlements in East Jerusalem.
While the District Planning Committee discussed the Givat HaShaked plan for deposit on February 14, it declined to approve it for deposit due to the need to adequately review environmental surveys and conduct additional environmental examinations of the area. As mentioned above, the plan will be discussed again by the committee on July 25.
The Lower Aqueduct plan (TPS 808840), initiated by the Israel Land Authority, calls for the construction of 1,465 housing units on an area comprised of roughly 186 dunams of land adjacent to the Palestinian neighborhood of Umm Tuba and located between Har Homa, Givat Hamatos and Ramat Rachel. The new Israeli neighborhood/settlement is designated for land on both sides of the Green Line and will serve to extend the Israeli built-up area along East Jerusalem's southern boundary, while further fracturing the Palestinian space and depleting more land reserves for Palestinian development.
According to the plan, an access road to the new settlement will be built over the Green Line on private Palestinian land belonging to residents of Umm Tuba. This land will likely be expropriated. Despite the probable expropriation, the plan does not offer any development for the remaining private Palestinian land and will likely not grant building rights to Palestinian landowners for areas alongside the road not intended for expropriation. As part of measures to reduce poverty in East Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Municipality along with the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs initiated a plan two years ago for the establishment of a major Palestinian business center for this precise area but was shelved due to strong rightwing pushback. The Israel Land Authority now intends to expropriate the area to serve the new Israeli settlement/neighborhood.
Moreover, Ir Amim uncovered that settlement of land title procedures are likewise being carried out on Umm Tuba land just bordering the boundaries of the plan (marked by the yellow circle in the map below). While the Israeli intent with this land is not yet known to Ir Amim, speculations can easily be drawn based on other examples across East Jerusalem where settlement plans are being advanced in lockstep with such procedures, including in Sharafat-Beit Safafa ("Givat HaShaked"), Atarot, Givat Hamatos and Um Haroun, Sheikh Jarrah. At least a portion of this bloc undergoing settlement of title is apparently managed by the General Custodian.
The District Planning Committee discussed the plan on January 17, however, it instructed that modifications be made to the plan prior to approval for deposit. The plan will therefore be discussed again on July 25 and likely approved for deposit.
The Interplay between the Geopolitical and Inequitable Urban Planning
Beyond their lethal geopolitical ramifications, the advancement of these plans underscore the systematic discrimination implicit in Israeli planning and building policy in Jerusalem. While zoning plans for thousands of housing units are advanced yearly for Israeli settlements and neighborhoods across the city, equitable residential development is virtually neglected in planning schemes for Palestinian areas, leading to devastating rates of home demolitions. In 2021, zoning plans were promoted for over 35,000 housing units (14,500+ of which were in settlements) in Israeli areas across Jerusalem, while only some 7200 housing units were advanced in the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods. This is despite Palestinians constituting nearly 40% of Jerusalem’s population.
In the absence of zoning plans, it is impossible to procure building permits, forcing many Palestinians to build without them, which subjects their homes to the threat of demolition. Since the start of 2022, there have been 94 demolitions across East Jerusalem, 49 of which were residential units.
Rather than utilizing the remaining open spaces in East Jerusalem to meet the severe housing needs of the Palestinian population, the Israeli authorities continue to advance new settlements for Israelis directly adjacent (or even within) Palestinian neighborhoods, which are in dire need of proper residential development. Such inequitable urban planning policy has long served as a lever of Palestinian displacement from the city in service to Israel's goal of preserving a Jewish demographic majority in Jerusalem and further cementing Israeli territorial control to foil prospects for a just political resolution.