Israel Not Trying to Slight Biden With Givat Hamatos Tender, Analyst Says
Netanyahu taking advantage of Trump’s final two months in office with east Jerusalem neighborhood housing approval
US President Donald Trump still has not publicly admitted his election defeat but Israel is acting on the assumption that President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in on January 20, 2021. This could partially explain Sunday’s controversial announcement of the opening of tenders for the construction of 1,257 housing units in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, a leading expert on Israeli international affairs told The Media Line.
I think the focus of [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu is what can be done with Trump in the remaining two months
“I think the focus of [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu is what can be done with Trump in the remaining two months,” says Nimrod Goren, founder and head of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
While the Trump Administration is seen as favorable to building housing units on land located across the 1967 borders, the incoming Biden Administration views settlement-building as an obstacle to a two-state solution.
But, according to Goren, that does not mean that Israel is attempting to slight Biden and gear up for a fight by issuing Sunday’s tender, with the final day for submitting proposals scheduled for January 18, just two days before Biden’s inauguration in Washington.
“Once the new administration sets in, the Israeli interest is to develop good working relations,” Goren explained. “There has been lots of damage done to relations with the Democratic Party over the last four years and the need would be to fix it and not create additional tensions with the party and the new president.”
There are other possible factors at play in Sunday’s announcement, Goren added. This includes domestic considerations as Netanyahu staves off a challenge from his right flank with the rise of the Yamina party by showing a commitment to settlements after nixing annexation of the Jordan Valley as part of the recent normalization pact with the United Arab Emirates.
Regarding the Gulf region, Goren said that Israel could be testing the waters to see if there will be any reaction from the UAE over the announcement.
“The UAE put as a condition for normalization the stopping of annexation,” Goren said. “What does that mean when Israel is not annexing but is still developing in the West Bank?”
A business delegation made up of Jewish settlers visited the UAE last week, traveling on the first commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Dubai.
The Media Line reached out to the Construction and Housing Ministry and the Israel Land Authority for comment but did not receive responses by press time.
While Israel views Givat Hamatos as a strategically important link with the nearby Jewish neighborhoods of Gilo and Har Homa, critics of the project say that it undermines the two-state solution by blocking territorial continuity between Bethlehem and east Jerusalem and by preventing the Palestinian town of Beit Safafa, which runs along the so-called Green Line marking Israel’s pre-1967 border with the West Bank and the eastern sector of Jerusalem, from connecting to a future Palestinian state.
“It’s like putting up a wall inside Gush Dan or between Brooklyn or Manhattan, when you build a settlement between such important spaces,” Brian Reeves, director of development and external relations at the left-wing Israeli nongovernmental organization Peace Now, told The Media Line.
Reeves agrees with Goren that the tender is not about sending a message to the incoming Biden Administration but about taking advantage of the Trump Administration’s brief time left in power.
“I don’t think it’s meant to be malicious. I think it is strategically timed to happen before the Biden Administration comes in,” Reeves said.
The European Union condemned the opening of the bidding process in a statement announcing that the EU head of mission and “like-minded countries” will be visiting Givat Hamatos on Monday.
The Palestinian Authority issued a statement on Sunday denouncing the construction approval as well as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned visit to a winery in Psagot, located in what the international community refers to as the West Bank and the Israeli government calls Judea and Samaria.
Pompeo also is planning to visit the Golan Heights, according to multiple media reports, although the trip, which would be the first by a Secretary of State to both the West Bank and the Golan Heights, has not been confirmed by the State Department.
“We are condemning these actions which are against international law and destroying all possibilities to implement the two-state solution based on the 1967 line,” Fatah spokesperson Osama Qawasmi told The Media Line. “These attempts are a continuation of previous attempts to make the establishment of a State of Palestine an impossible mission.”
Qawasmi argues that the tender goes against UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which calls Israeli settlements illegal under international law. The resolution was adopted on Dec. 23, 2016, by a 14-0 vote, with the United States notably abstaining during the waning days of the Obama Administration, a move that infuriated Israel.
“We are calling on the Security Council to step up on its responsibilities and to implement the resolution they adopted four years ago at the end of 2016,” Qawasmi said.
The Israel Land Authority originally issued the permit in February 2020, shortly after Netanyahu had pledged to begin building the project during the last election campaign. However, the tender wasn’t published until Sunday, including an increase in housing units from 1,077 to 1,257.
The land authority website states that the details of the project are subject to change and that the tender still can be canceled.