7 things the Guardian and EU should know about Israel’s plan to build new apartments in Jerusalem

This is cross posted from the siteMissing Peace, and serves as a rebuttal to Harriet Sherwood’s report, “Israel approves new settler homes in East Jerusalem, Sept. 27., which characterized the plan to build new apartments in Israel’s capital as “provocative” and a threat to peace. 

A new international outcry about the latest building plan in Jerusalem has led to a mini crisis in German Israeli relations.

Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly called Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to criticize a building plan in the Gilo neighborhood. Last week the plan received initial approval from the Jerusalem district planning and building committee of the Israeli Interior Ministry.

Earlier Merkel’s spokesman had expressed doubts about Netanyahu’s seriousness in regard to new  negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

Merkel wasn’t the only European leader to criticize Israel for approving the building plan, which will provide 1100 much needed new apartments to the population of Jerusalem.

EU commissioner Catherine Ashton also joined the chorus and called the plan ‘provocative’ and even urged Israel to ‘reverse its plans’.

Aside from the fact that these criticizers are totally ignorant when it comes to some of the most basic facts about Jerusalem and Gilo,  there is also the deafening silence in light of Palestinian intransigence and blatant violations of signed peace accords.

Recently PA president Mahmoud Abbas, officially announcing the Palestinian statehood bid – which by the way constitutes a violation of the Oslo accords –  delivered a speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, that was full of distortions and incitement against Israel.

He received applause.

Similarly Senior Fatah official Abbas Zaki last week openly declared that the PA attempts to obtain full UN membership, were in fact meant as a next step towards the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of Israel.

No international outcry followed.

But let us return to the claim that the building of 1100 units in Gilo threatens peace or even the peace negotiations.

Here are seven facts everyone making claims like these should know:

1.  Gilo is not a settlement. The Jerusalem neighborhood, situated roughly one kilometer beyond the 1948 armistice (Green) line, was mainly built on land that was purchased by Jews before World War 2. After 1967 when Israel in fact recaptured Gilo, additional land was  sold to Israelis by Jabra Hamis the former mayor of Beit Jallah . The same land was later used for building projects in Gilo.The status of Jerusalem was left out of the 1947 partition plan and out of the Oslo accords.  Jerusalem has had an overwhelming Jewish majority since the second half of the 19th century and has always been the capital of Israel.  

2.  Final status talks between Israel and the PA always focused on keeping Gilo and other Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line within Israel.

3.  Israel never committed itself to a building halt in Jerusalem. The city is suffering from a severe housing crisis caused by a lack of building due to political pressure and a shortage of available land in West Jerusalem, where the city  borders one of Israel’s most important nature reserves.   As a result rent for an average three room apartment in a Jewish neighborhood has skyrocketed to 900 $ a month. Compare that to the 220 $ for an average three room apartment in a Palestinian town on the West Bank.

4.  The approval of the building plan by the Israeli Interior Ministry does not mean that building will start tomorrow. The process of building a neighborhood in Israel can take up to ten years from the moment a plan is submitted for initial approval to the first of a series committees dealing with building plans.

5.  The particular plan in Gilo deals with building within the current neighborhood, as is shown on the maps below.  Most of the building will take place in parts of the Gilo Forest on land situated between two ‘peninsula’s’ on the west side of Gilo, opposite land within the Green line where the Jerusalem Zoo and the Central Train Station are located.

6.  No Arab village on the southern or eastern side of Gilo is threatened by the building plan, nor are the planned units ‘encroaching’ on land owned by Arabs.

7.  Gilo is the only Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem directly bordering an area under PA control. The strategic importance of Gilo to the security of Jerusalem became clear during the Second Intifada, when Palestinian terrorists conducted daily shooting attacks on the neighborhood from BeitJallah.  As a result houses on the east side of Gilo had to be fortified. In the end a huge wall was built to protect Gilo against incoming fire from Beit Jallah.

Meanwhile Danny Ayalon  Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister criticized the foreign intervention in building affairs in Jerusalem and said that the condemnations only serve the Palestinian agenda of making preconditions to complicate future peace negotiations.

Indeed, the way large parts of the international community react to building  in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem has taken the form of a Pavlovian response in which rationality doesn’t matter anymore.

Apparently all that counts is to make clear that, contrary to the historical and legal Jewish claim on the whole of Jerusalem, Israel has no business in the parts of Jerusalem that where illegally occupied by Jordan during the war of independence  in 1948.

google map of Gilo showing the area's where the building is scheduled (D,E,F)
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