Erekat slams Israeli plans for new east J'lem neighborhood

Givat Hamatos project for 2,610 apartments passes major hurdle in approval process; PA chief negotiator says plan "makes a mockery of ... efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace."

Erekat talking with hands in air 311 (photo credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Erekat talking with hands in air 311
(photo credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
The Palestinian Authority on Friday slammed Israeli plans to build more than 2,500 apartments in the new Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, over the 1967 Green Line.
"Israel's plan to build 2,610 housing units ... between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, makes a mockery of ... efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace," Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.
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The plan passed an important step in the approval process this week, in what activists are calling the most dramatic change in Jewish construction over the 1967 Green Line since the construction of Har Homa in late 1990s. The news of the major housing project, which will create a completely separate neighborhood between Beit Safafa and Har Homa, was largely ignored in the news of the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap deal.
Left-wing activists and politicians slammed the plan for a new neighborhood in east Jerusalem. “I think that this is a decisive massacre of the option of returning to negotiations with Palestinians,” said City Councilor Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio. “Givat Hamatos is different from other neighborhoods. Construction in neighborhoods already built doesn’t scare me, but this is only on paper and this is a totally new settlement,” he said.
The plan for a new neighborhood at Givat Hamatos has been in the works for years. The general construction plan for Givat Hamatos with 2,610 housing units was approved in September. At least some of the housing units will be reserved for an Arab extension of Beit Safafa.
However, the project’s approval in September did not raise any red flags since the land for the project has many different owners, including the Spanish government and the Latin Patriarch, said Margalit. Determining and reorganizing the ownership for building purposes is a complicated legal process called “reparcelization” that can take years, leading activists and politicians to focus their energies elsewhere.
The reparcelization plan was deposited for public review on Tuesday, which began a 60-day period for review during which the public can file oppositions to the project. With the deposit, the project is close to the end of the complicated approval process, and construction could begin as early as a year and a half from now.
Two weeks ago, the Quartet strongly denounced expansion plans for 1,100 new units in the Gilo neighborhood, which is also located across the Green Line. Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, who heads the Settlement Watch Team, called the Givat Hamatos plan “much more dramatic.” “It’s three times the size, and it’s a whole new neighborhood and a new footprint,” she said.
The main argument that left-wing activists have against the project is its controversial location, which continues a line of Jewish neighborhoods that separate Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem from Bethlehem. “This is land that could be a potential connection from Beit Safafa to the Palestinian state, but now we’re going to close off [Beit Safafa] like an enclave,” she said. 
City Council member David “Didi” Hershkovitz (Yerushayalim Beiteinu), who sits on the municipality’s Local Planning and Building Committee, blessed the new project. “Givat Hamatos is a prerequisite for massive building in Jerusalem,” he said on Friday. “There is not and cannot be a division between west Jerusalem, Gilo and Har Homa. Anything otherwise is claims by leftists whose goal is trying to continue to delegitimize Israel,” he said.
Hershkovitz said he is ready for international condemnation, though he challenged any of the world leaders to find Givat Hamatos or Gilo on a map. “Givat Hamatos is clearly part of Jerusalem, it’s right next to [the Jerusalem neighborhood of] Talpiyot,” he said. “They can’t say 'it’s not the time to build,' because then there’s really no time to build. This is exactly the time to build and to strengthen Jerusalem.”
Margalit called the initiators of the Givat Hamatos project “terrorists” and vowed to make sure people around the world understood the “severity” of the project.