New east J'lem neighborhood plan spurs outrage on Left

Givat Hamatos plan for 2,610 apartments passes major hurdle in approval process; Left-wing activists, politicians: Ruinous for peace talks.

Givat Hamatos 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Peace Now)
Givat Hamatos 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Peace Now)
A plan for more than 2,500 apartments in the new neighborhood at Givat Hamatos passed an important step in the approval process last week, in what activists are calling the most dramatic change in Jewish construction over the Green Line since the construction of Har Homa in late 1990s.
The news of the major housing project, which will create a neighborhood between Beit Safafa and Har Homa, was largely ignored amid the news of the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap deal.
RELATED:Europeans want another settlement freeze from PMAnalysis: Why did PM greenlight Gilo housing project?
Left-wing activists and politicians slammed the plan for a new neighborhood in southeast 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 in the municipality.
“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.”
Givat Hamatos currently has a caravan village that was built in 1991 to temporarily house Ethiopian Jews who were airlifted to Israel.
The plan for the new neighborhood 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 extension of the Arab Beit Safafa neighborhood.
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 Patriarchate, 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 members of the public can file objections 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 Middle EastQuartet 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 its 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 leftwing activists have against the project is its location, which continues a line of Jewish neighborhoods that separate Arab neighborhoods in southern 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,” Ofran said.
City Council member David “Didi” Hershkovitz (Yerushayalim Beiteinu), who sits on the municipality’s Local Planning and Building Committee, welcomed 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.”
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 west 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.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized Israel on Friday over the plan.
“The secretary-general is deeply concerned at continued efforts to advance planning for new Israeli settlements in occupied east Jerusalem,” Ban’s press office said in a statement.
“Recent developments in this regard have been unacceptable, particularly as efforts are ongoing to resume [Israeli- Palestinian] negotiations, and run contrary to the Quartet’s call on the parties to refrain from provocations,” it said.
“The secretary-general reiterates that settlement activity in east Jerusalem and the remainder of the West Bank is contrary to international law,” the UN statement said, adding such activity “must cease.”

Reuters contributed to this report.