Regarding Jerusalem comments, EU needs to be careful

The visit by the European officials raises questions as to why they are involved in the first place.

HOUSES in the Beit Safafa neighborhood of Jerusalem, near Givat Hamatos. (photo credit: LIOR MIZRAHI/FLASH90)
HOUSES in the Beit Safafa neighborhood of Jerusalem, near Givat Hamatos.
(photo credit: LIOR MIZRAHI/FLASH90)
European Union officials are expressing concern about possible housing construction at Givat Hamatos in Jerusalem. European Union foreign policy head Josep Borrell said he was worried that the developments would be an obstacle to a possible two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
“This is a key location between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank,” he asserted, adding that construction  of homes would harm the “possibility of a negotiated two-state solution in line with the international agreed parameters and with Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also said that the construction would hamper reaching agreement on a two-state solution. The European Union, the Palestinians and other groups appear to be coordinating messaging on this issue.
On Monday, a European Union delegation led by EU Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff visited the Givat Hamatos hilltop to make their opposition known. They attempted to hold a press conference at the site, but were prevented from doing so by right-wing activists who heckled them and called them “antisemites.”
This behavior is, of course, unacceptable. But the visit by the European officials raises questions as to why they are involved in the first place in a matter involving Israeli building plans in its capital, Jerusalem.
 While the construction of 1,200 housing units is portrayed as a “settlement,” the reality on the ground does not mesh with the claims of either the EU officials or the Palestinians. Givat Hamatos is inside Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, it is not a settlement and it is surrounded by civilian neighborhoods.
Housing has been planned here for years, and people already live in the area. Back in 2014 when Israel was already planning to develop this area to alleviate the city’s growing housing needs, France and Germany condemned the plans.  
 Much of the controversy about a small number of housing units is linked to how the area is portrayed. It is asserted that the area, if built on, somehow changes the two-state solution. It does not. Givat Hamatos is not going to be part of a prospective Palestinian capital of east Jerusalem. The way it is already enmeshed in Jewish and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem makes it geographically part of Jerusalem and not some area that is negotiable with the Palestinians.
Second, there has been widespread building already in nearby areas like Talpiot, Gilo, Beit Safafa, Armon HaNatziv and Har Homa. The claims that it is the “first Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem in two decades” is based on a false reading of the rapid growth of neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem.  
 The sudden, heated rhetoric about this area appears more political than based in reality. The idea that building at Givat Hamatos would end the chance for a two-state solution goes against logic. However, the government should tread carefully about how it announces these plans.
The reports about Givat Hamatos were manufactured to create a headache for the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden. This is reminiscent of a 2010 controversy where Israel was also accused of announcing a settlement during Biden’s visit and that announcement was also highlighted by anti-Israel voices to purposely embarrass Israel during his visit.
Once again, this is being rolled out to create traction in the EU and the new US administration to pressure Israel. The government should learn from past controversies and consider more carefully when to make these announcements and not give Israel’s enemies ammunition to use against it at particularly sensitive times.
 While it is important to respect and listen to the concerns of European friends, it is also important to ask why a relatively small number of homes in this one area is of such great importance.
While millions have been forced to become refugees in Syria, while NATO-member Turkey is involved in ethnic cleansing in Afrin and northern Syria, and a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia has displaced thousands, it is worth wondering why European officials once against single out Israel.
They should be criticizing Turkey for its illegal occupation of Kurdish areas of Syria and questioning a myriad of human rights violations that they appear to constantly ignore while they berate Israel.  The controversy over Israel building in Jerusalem is misplaced.