The approval process for new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem has slowed
dramatically since March’s diplomatic crisis during Vice President Joe Biden’s
visit, according to data made available to The Jerusalem Post by Ir Amim and
Peace Now. But several Israeli officials denied any deliberate
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In the five months since Biden’s visit, only a handful of small
projects, with a total of 433 housing units, have passed some level of approval.
In the three months before Biden’s visit, five large projects, with more than
3,171 housing units, passed some level of approval. Data from previous years
Some officials, notably including Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman, say the slowdown in approvals means there is a de
freeze in east Jerusalem due to international pressure.
Lieberman said on
Wednesday that plans to develop 1,600 housing units in various east
neighborhoods should be taken up again immediately after the 10-month
settlement moratorium ends on September 26.
But a spokeswoman for the
Interior Ministry said the slowdown could be due to Prime Minister
Netanyahu’s “increased mechanisms” for oversight of the Interior
approval committees following the Ramat Shlomo affair, or simply to
bureaucracy and other normal fluctuations.
“After Clinton and Biden, they
hardly approved any construction in east Jerusalem,” city council member
Margalit (Meretz) said, referring to the US secretary of state’s
criticism of Israeli building policies over the Green Line at the height
Ramat Shlomo dispute five months ago. “The Americans didn’t ask us to
building, they asked us to stop approving buildings.”
“The thing about
the freeze in Judea and Samaria, even if I don’t agree with it, is it’s a
cabinet decision,” said Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister
Edelstein (Likud), who is on an Interior Ministry committee that deals
“With Jerusalem, it’s all de facto, and that’s
why it’s also hard to fight against it.”
In contacts with the Post this
week, the municipality, the Interior Ministry and the Prime Minister’s
all denied there was any kind of a freeze in east Jerusalem, either on
approval process or construction itself.
“Any hint at a freeze of
construction is baseless,” said Stephan Miller, a spokesman for Mayor
“It’s just coincidence,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Efrat
Orbach said, when asked about the slowdown in the approval rate.
goes very quickly and sometimes it doesn’t...
It doesn’t have any
connection to anything.”
Between January and March of this year, 3,171
housing units passed different points of approval, according to data
by Ir Amim, a Jerusalem non-profit advocating for a two-state solution,
activist group Peace Now. This 3,171 figure included 549 units in the
Hamatos neighborhood, 320 in Ramot, 600 in Pisgat Ze’ev, 102 in Gilo,
1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo.
Since Biden’s visit in March, the groups
said, only 433 units have passed various hurdles. They are mostly
projects from private companies, and two are in the “Holy Basin” a
to the east of the Old City. They include 20 units in Sheikh Jarrah at
Shepherd Hotel, 24 units at the Beit Orot Yeshiva in ATur, two projects
Pisgat Ze’ev for 48 and 32 units, respectively, (part of a 600-unit
approved earlier), and the largest, 309 units in Neveh Ya’acov.
estimates do not include Barkat’s Gan Hamelech plan in Silwan because
calls for a park rather than housing units.
Left-wing organizations with
an interest in this type of data struggle to keep track of it by relying
giant, detailed spreadsheets that they fill out by as the news of
The municipality, by contrast, has a separate file for each
plan. It does not keep data that differentiates between construction in
eastern and western parts of the capital, making it difficult to
whether the east Jerusalem slowdown is linked to diplomacy concerns, or
part of a general slowdown in construction approvals.
Shlomo dispute erupted on March 9, when the Jerusalem District Building
Planning Committee agreed to allow a 1,600-unit housing project in the
Shlomo neighborhood to be submitted for review, giving it the first of
stamps of approval needed to move on to the next stage. An Interior
announcement to this effect took Netanyahu by surprise, and was widely
around the world.
After the announcement, Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas pulled out of indirect “proximity” talks with Israel,
which he had
agreed to just days earlier.
“Nobody made a fuss [in previous years]...
The fuss [in March] was because some people made a panic out of this, to
sorrow,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said in a recent interview
Post. “Even the Americans understand that it was a routine decision.
happened was unfortunate.”
Yishai detailed the steps that had been taken
to avoid a repeat of the row.
“Netanyahu committed that when there is a
visit [by a US VIP], we’ll do nothing to create unnecessary tensions,”
“Ramat Shlomo came as a surprise to us, so the prime minister asked
the cabinet secretariat to create mechanisms to make sure that no one
surprised by decisions by a lowerlevel body and decisions that have
on national security,” explained an official from the Prime Minister’s
who asked not to be named.
The official would not elaborate on the
mechanisms put in place, though Orbach said that now the agenda for each
planning meeting must be passed to a new committee and relevant
“From a legal point of view, planning and zoning in
Jerusalem is the same as in Ramat Gan or Hadera,” the official added.
central government has nothing to do with it. But because Jerusalem is,
eyes of the international community, a special case, we wanted to make
we weren’t surprised the way we were so publicly after the Biden
The Ramat Shlomo project, like many other major construction
projects over the Green Line, is now languishing in bureaucracy. After
that first approval from the district planning committee on March 9, the
contractors are now required to publish their plans in three local
and start a 60-day period for public comment before they can move on to
stage of approval.
But no such announcements have been published, meaning
the buildings won’t move forward.
“It’s in progress,” said Pinhas Shnur,
the head of Ramat Shlomo’s Infrastructures Committee. “Every project,
it’s in Tel Aviv or whether it’s here, takes years.”
He added, however,
that there was an upside to being in the middle of a worldwide
“It was great publicity,” Shnur said.
The main source of
the slowdown in approvals is the Jerusalem District Planning and
Committee, one of six district committees under the auspices of the
After March’s crisis, the committee did not meet for two
months, ostensibly to give the Prime Minister’s Office time to comb its
agendas for Ramat Shlomo-style surprises.
The Interior Ministry
spokeswoman said that the committee usually meets once or twice a month,
hiatus was due to Pessah rather than political pressure.
definitely something going on, because we’re not seeing enough
city council member David Hershkovitz (Israel Beiteinu), who has served
Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee for two years.
need to stand up and yell, ‘We’re building here!’ for every building
protest. But we need to keep building, of course,” he said.
Most of the
uproar about specific construction projects is deliberate provocation,
Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon, the head of the local planning and building
“Some people say, let’s make a big deal here to save somewhere
else, let’s embarrass here in order to do something else,” he
Kahlon also denied there was a freeze in east Jerusalem
construction approvals, insisting that the municipality’s planning
separate from the Interior Ministry and not affected by pressure from
East Jerusalem construction tends to make the news almost
weekly, despite the de facto freeze or significant slowdown, because the
reports on every approval of each step of the long process. But the
process is so long and convoluted that it requires dozens of stamps of
over a period of years, sometimes stretching for more than a decade
a project is first submitted and when construction begins.
frenzy, strengthened after Biden’s visit, makes it confusing for those
to pinpoint how close various projects are to digging a foundation.
apply for a building permit at the municipality, the owner must submit
ownership to the Israel Lands Administration, unless the land is already
by the state, as in the case for most of the large projects.
contractors then submit the plan to the Jerusalem Local Planning and
Committee, the municipal body, and, if the plan passes, it moves onto
Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee, which is a part of
The district committee meets at least three times on
each project – to agree that the project can be submitted for review, to
public objections, and to approve the project. The Ramat Shlomo project
headlines in March after the first meeting of the district committee,
was approved for deposit, or public review.
If approved after the three
meetings, the contractors must open the project up again to public
if no objections are raised, the project goes back to the municipality
to get a
construction permit. If objections are raised, the district committee
The municipality then checks the infrastructure and engineering,
which usually involves a lot of back-and-forth haggling. If the city
many changes have been made to the original plan, the contractors may
have to go
through the process with the district committee all over again.
work can begin, the entire project is checked one last time by a
the municipality’s local planning and building committee.