Political perspective

Givat Ze'ev's newest neighborhood, known as Agan Ha'ayalot, has had a bumpy ride since the first ground was cleared on the hilltop several years ago. But now, Israeli settlement building, whether private, state-sanctioned or illegal outposts erected by right-wing activists, is in the spotlight more than ever following last November's Annapolis peace conference. The go-ahead from the Construction and Housing Ministry for the 750-unit development represents the largest settlement construction in the West Bank over the past few years. In 1999, the state offered tenders for 546 units to 10 contractors, but building was frozen after the second intifada made the plots unmarketable and the contractors tried unsuccessfully to pull out of the project and be reimbursed by the government. When the contractors found haredi buyers a few months ago, the state initially refused to renew the contracts, which had since expired, but eventually decided to give it the green light when contractors sued the government in a case that could have led to a NIS 1.5 billion settlement. Ministry spokesman Binyamin Weil told In Jerusalem he believes there is "no contradiction" between the building in Givat Ze'ev and Israel's declared settlement freeze because "some companies had already started building and all the infrastructure had been laid down. The freeze on building is on new tenders and the land was already held by the 10 building companies." On Monday, Ehud Olmert told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that construction would continue in east Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs. "We are not building new settlements, everyone must understand this... We don't hide our views on Jerusalem and major settlement blocs, we are being honest about everything throughout the negotiations," he said. Although financial motives may have superseded ideological ones for most of Givat Ze'ev's residents, the purpose of the settlement from its very conception was political. Like other major settlement blocs encircling the capital, Givat Ze'ev was part of a scheme to create a Jewish greater Jerusalem in the face of a growing Arab population in and around the city after 1967. In his autobiography, Warrior, former general and prime minister Ariel Sharon wrote that, in his opinion, the "answer" to Jerusalem's long-term development was to "create an outer ring of development around the Arab neighborhoods, a horseshoe that would run about 10 to 15 kilometers outside the center from Gush Etzion and Efrat in the south to Ma'aleh Adumim in the east [and] to Givat Ze'ev and Beit El in the north." Although all of Israel's settlements in the West Bank, as well as in east Jerusalem, are considered illegal under international law, Israel intends to keep key settlement blocs including Givat Ze'ev, Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Modi'in Illit, in the event of a peace deal with the Palestinians, thus officially incorporating them to Israel. "There is a decision that it [Givat Ze'ev] will be kept as part of Israel in the future, although I don't know if the Palestinians agree with this. It is part of the strategy to connect with Jerusalem and to keep Route 443. In this respect, it is a very strategic location," explains Israel Kimhi, head of research on Jerusalem at the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies, who agrees that Givat Ze'ev has contributed to creating a "Jewish" greater Jerusalem. "Before the 1970s, there was nothing around Jerusalem, now with Givat Ze'ev, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion there are almost 100,000 people. This doesn't mean that metropolitan Jerusalem will have a Jewish majority in the future, but it is still important from a Jewish or Israeli perspective." -