Israel is inclined to create facts on the ground while President Donald Trump is still in the White House. The previous Sunday, November 15, the Israel Land Authority opened tenders for the construction of more than 1,200 housing units, in a settlement called Givat Hamatos, southeast of Jerusalem. Additional units are reportedly planned in Har Homa and Atarot.
The consequences are far-reaching for both sides. The plan effectively cuts off Jerusalem from the Palestinian West Bank.
The latter is one reason why the settlement’s construction had been considered a red line for the international community. President Barack Obama strongly voiced his opposition while still in office.
Israel’s Timing isn’t a Coincidence
Israeli authorities have set the end of the tender for January 18, 2021, two days prior to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Capitol Hill.
Israel furthermore approved a settlement in East Jerusalem on November 12 – in Ramat Shlomo.
Israel furthermore approved a settlement in East Jerusalem on November 12 – in Ramat Shlomo, the settlement whose expansion was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu right before a visit of then-Vice President Joe Biden in 2010 to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s surprise announcement sparked a diplomatic crisis between Tel Aviv and Washington, so severe that the White House forced a temporary halt to further settlement development.
Israel’s modus operandi is, therefore, part of an agenda and not surprising. After all, “Israel’s greatest friend,” President Donald Trump, is departing the White House.
As the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said of Israel’s plans on Wednesday: “Israel is creating new facts in a race against time.”
The Best Friend Israel’s Ever Had in the White House
During Donald Trump’s presidency, the United States has made some significant and sometimes controversial decisions in its Israel policy. Washington first recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and relocated its embassy there in 2018.
The White House also said that the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank was “not per se incompatible with international law” and recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel in 2019. Israel conquered the latter in 1967 during the Six-Day War.
The White House said that the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank was “not per se incompatible with international law.”
The UN classifies the areas as occupied. International law prohibits states from resettling their civilian populations into occupied territory. Meanwhile, Israel takes the view that the West Bank was not previously a state and that Jordan illegally annexed it at the time.
Pompeo Sets Precedent During Final Visit
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to Israel that commenced on November 18, reiterated how the Trump administration championed Israel during the past four years.
Pompeo first met in Jerusalem with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, on November 18.
On November 19, Pompeo visited a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, in close proximity to Ramallah, and later went on a similar visit to the occupied Golan Heights.
The latter was a pivotal moment. For one, it was the first time an American Secretary of State visited a settlement in his governmental capacity. Furthermore, it appears that the termination of the annexation in the West Bank, announced by Israel in the summer, is not a relevant stipulation in the negotiations on the normalization agreement with the Emirates.
Goodbye to the Two-State-Solution?
The Givat Hamatos settlement not only means the construction of the first new settlement in East Jerusalem in two decades but, together with the expansion of existing settlements, is considered a de facto separation of the predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem from the city of Bethlehem.
Israel’s government regards both the western and the Palestinian-inhabited and claimed eastern parts of Jerusalem as belonging to its indivisible capital and is increasingly extending this claim to the greater Jerusalem area in the occupied West Bank.
It is no exaggeration to argue that Israel’s move is one of the most momentous settlement decisions in many years, as it subsumes the greater part of Jerusalem and its surroundings.
Israel’s move is one of the most momentous settlement decisions in many years, as it subsumes the greater part of Jerusalem and its surroundings.
Moreover, a Palestinian connection to its own hinterland will be severed, while the Palestinian district of Beit Safafa will be surrounded from all sides.
Under the previous parameters, a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital becomes almost impossible.
Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, reacted accordingly and called Givat Hamatos “a continuation of the current Israeli government policy of destroying the two-state solution.”
The international reactions also show how consequential Israel’s decision could be. The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said he was “very concerned” by the step and called for the decision’s reversal.
“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,” he added.
The European Union’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, stated he was “deeply worried” and called on Israel to “reverse this negative step.”
Palestinian Hope in Joe Biden
Trump’s successor, President-elect Joe Biden, who, although not likely to reverse Trump’s pro-Israel course but rather continue America’s unconditional support for Israel, has always been an avowed supporter of the two-state solution and has already announced his desire for revitalizing US support for Palestinians.
With his inauguration on January 20, the Palestinians hope for a paradigm shift. However, how far Biden is willing – and indeed able if Republicans maintain a Senate majority – to oppose Israel’s settlement plans remains to be seen, particularly since Biden will first focus on domestic issues such as managing the COVID-19 pandemic and boosting the economy.