Netanyahu solidifies united Jerusalem with Givat Hamatos, Har Homa pledge

Israel views Har Homa and Givat Hamatos as essential to its vision of a united Jerusalem, while opponents believe they make the division of Jerusalem along the 1949-1967 armistice line impossible.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion announce new housing units in Har Homa (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion announce new housing units in Har Homa
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday promised to solidify Israel’s hold over its united capital with two Jewish building projects in east Jerusalem: expanding Har Homa and lifting the construction freeze on a new neighborhood in Givat Hamatos.
“We are connecting all parts of the united Jerusalem, the rebuilt Jerusalem,” he announced at an overlook near Har Homa. “It is a source of great pride and is great news for the entire people of Israel.”
Netanyahu was joined by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and Prime Minister’s Office director-general Ronen Peretz.
The Givat Hamatos project was created in 2012 but frozen by Netanyahu in response to US pressure. While some of the Givat Hamatos homes are to be set aside for Arab-Israelis, the bulk of the project will be for Jewish homes.
“We are going to build the Givat Hamatos neighborhood,” Netanyahu said. “We have removed all of the impediments.”
Both the Har Homa neighborhood and nearby Givat Hamatos are located on the southern edge of Jerusalem. Opponents see them as disrupting the territorial contiguity of east Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods from nearby Bethlehem and portions of the West Bank.
Israel views Har Homa and Givat Hamatos as essential to its vision of a united Jerusalem, while opponents believe they make the division of Jerusalem along the 1949-1967 armistice line impossible.
Netanyahu made his announcement about the projects with less than two weeks to go until the March 2 election. It also comes less than two months after US President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that included a map of the permanent borders of a two-state solution.
The plan did not take the pre-1967 lines into account. It gave the Palestinians east Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the security barrier and placed the areas of Jerusalem within the barrier under sovereign Israel. Both Har Homa and Givat Hamatos are located within the barrier.
Jordan and the Palestinian Authority immediately stated their opposition to Netanyahu’s vow, with Jordan dubbing it a “violation of international law, international humanitarian law and international resolutions.”
A Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman in Amman called for “an end to the Israeli acts, as the occupying force,” and appealed to the international community to “take a firm stance towards halting Israeli settlement policy.”
The PA said the projects were part of the “systematic destruction of the two-state solution.”
PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the new construction plan was designed to implement Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” Trump’s plan, he said, violates resolutions of international legitimacy and norms of international law, “under which settlement construction is illegal.”
Abu Rudeineh claimed Netanyahu was trying to win the votes of the right-wing parties in the upcoming election “at the expense of the Palestinian people’s rights.”
Implementation of the construction plan would fully cut off Jerusalem from Bethlehem, he said, “and subsequently what chance remains for establishing just and comprehensive peace based on resolutions of international legitimacy.”
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said: “Urgent international action” was needed “to deter both Israel and the US from their continued violations of international law and order.”
“Ongoing Israeli settlement announcements represent the implementation of Trump’s annexation plan,” he said.
On a hilltop near the built-up area of Har Homa, Netanyahu described the details of the plan for Givat Hamatos.
“We are approving the construction of 4,000 residential units: 1,000 residential units for the expansion of the Beit Safafa neighborhood – the Arab residents have a housing problem for which we are providing a solution – and another 3,000 residential units for Jewish residents,” he said. “I must say 1,000 of these will be put on the market immediately, in the coming days, by PMO acting director-general Ronen Peretz.”
Netanyahu also announced the expansion of Har Homa by 2,200 residential units, a move that would add 12,000 residents.
“Har Homa will be a neighborhood with around 50,000 residents,” he said. “This is like an average-sized city in Israel just in this neighborhood here.”
The neighborhood was established by Netanyahu in 1997 when he was prime minister. At the time, Netanyahu bucked both US and international pressure to construct it. He referenced that time on Thursday, saying: “We did this then in the face of strong international opposition. We overcame every obstacle, and we did it, and see what we have done in Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu has made similar campaign stops at Har Homa during past election campaigns to underscore his commitment to building Jerusalem. But Thursday’s campaign stop also reminded his opponents of the many pledges he has made, including with regard to Givat Hamatos, that never came to fruition.
Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser accused Netanyahu of making a string of unkept promises.
“He almost annexed the Jordan Valley,” he tweeted. “He almost applied Israeli law to Ma’aleh Adumim. He also evacuated [the Bedouin herding village of] Khan al-Ahmar. Now, he almost canceled the freeze he himself imposed on Har Homa.”
On March 2, there will be many good Israelis “who will almost vote for him, just almost, not really,” Hauser tweeted.
Hagit Ofran, of the left-wing NGO Peace Now, which opposes the project, fact-checked Netanyahu’s statements and said she found them problematic. She noted that according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, as of the end of 2018, there were only 24,000 people living in Har Homa, not 40,000.
Ofran and Peace Now also said some of Netanyahu’s other numbers were inflated, noting that the plan for Jewish homes in Givat Hamatos stood at 2,610 and for Arab homes at 805. Plans for the 2,610 homes are complete, but the plans for the 805 homes have not yet been approved, Peace Now said in a statement.
The Har Homa plans were just in the initial stages, it said.
“This is probably a plan to extend Har Homa to the west toward Givat Hamatos, reducing the margin for a potential Palestinian continuity between Jerusalem and Bethlehem,” Peace Now said.
Last week, the Housing and Construction Ministry moved forward with plans for 9,000 new Jewish homes in an area of Jerusalem called Atarot that is outside the barrier and is likely slated under the Trump plan to be part of a Palestinian state. The Trump plan calls for a Muslim tourist center to be constructed in that area, which is a decommissioned Mandate-era airport.