Israel plans to advance a 540-unit extension to the contentious east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in its first direct challenge to the Biden administration on Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, the Local Planning Committee is set to discuss the Har Homa project, along with 26 other projects located on both sides of the Green Line in Jerusalem. It includes building projects for Arab neighborhoods.
“The planned discussions on objections to the Har Homa plan is the second-to-last stage in the plan’s approval process,” the left-wing group Ir Amim said Monday.
“Such a measure constitutes the first advancement of a settlement plan beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem since US President [Joe] Biden entered office, and should be seen as an Israeli-initiated challenge to the new American administration with the intent of probing US reaction,” it stated.
“The convening of this discussion indicates that despite the change in the US administration, Israel intends to continue to advance settlement construction in some of the most politically strategic locations in east Jerusalem and its vicinity” of greater Jerusalem, Ir Amim said.
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum accused Ir Amim of creating a mountain out of a molehill by transforming the city’s normative planning process into a diplomatic battleground.
In particular, a number of the 27 projects that would be under debate were for construction in Arab east Jerusalem neighborhood, she said.
“There is no drama here,” Hassan-Nahoum said, adding that the planning process had begun five years earlier and that the homes were already part of the Har Homa master plan.
The project provides the city with new homes to accommodate for natural growth of its residents, she said. All that is happening here is that “the city is taking care of its residents,” she added.
Ir Amim said the project was outside the built-up area of Har Homa and unofficially constituted a new neighborhood “in the open space between Har Homa and Givat Hamatos.”
“It will complete Israeli territorial contiguity along the southern perimeter and sever east Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank,” it said.
Israel has supported Jewish building throughout Jerusalem, which it considers to be its united and undivided capital. The international community has opposed such building in east Jerusalem, which it maintains is the future capital of a Palestinian state.
But it has been particularly concerned by the area on the southern edge of the city, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, where Ha Homa is located.
Ir Amim has contended that Har Homa, as well as the planned building for the new Jewish Givat Hamatos neighborhood nearby, severs Palestinian east Jerusalem neighborhoods from Bethlehem and thus harms the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.
Since taking office in January, Biden has been clear about his opposition to Jewish building over the pre-1967 lines, including in West Bank settlements.
Last week, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “We believe when it comes to settlement activity that Israel should refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.”
Still, the Biden administration’s position on Jerusalem has been less clear than its stance on West Bank settlements. It has upheld the declaration by the Trump administration that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and it also has not rescinded the decision to allow Americans born anywhere in the city to register their place of birth as Israel, something that had previously been forbidden.
The Biden administration has been clear that Israel occupied east Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967, Price said when asked whether the West Bank is now occupied, but he did not mention east Jerusalem in that sentence.