The first formal announcement has come from the Israeli government — from its Ministry of Housing — that it is issuing new tenders for housing construction that will include some 238 housing units in two East Jerusalem settlements (Ramot and Pisgat Zeev). These are part of a package of some 4,000 housing units in various locations.
This move was reportedly approved by Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.
UPDATE + CORRECTION: Hagit Ofran, who monitors Israel’s settlements for Peace Now, has written on her blog, here. that “The actual tenders themselves haven’t yet been published and no potential buyers can offer their proposals yet; this was only an announcement by the ministry on the intentions, which can still be stopped. While the tenders have not yet been published, we do have a sense of what they might be. The 158 units in Ramot are probably the implementation of Town Plan No. 5330, in the Ultra Orthodox part of Ramot (the Ramot Polin neighborhood). The 80 units in Pisgat Zeev, are probably some ‘left overs’ from previous tenders which failed. On June 2008 the Ministry of Housing published tenders for 763 units in Pisgat Zeev. These tenders were only partially successful. Out of the 763 only 468 units were sold. In December 2009, Netanyahu allowed for the re-publication of the tenders for those units that were not sold in the original tenders. The 80 units now being announced are as far as we understand part of those that were not sold”.
So, is this just tough negotiating? …
She speculates, but says she believes her government is trying to fool the world.
In her post, Hagit writes that “It seems likely that the decision to announce these tenders right now, when the world’s attention is focused on Netanyahu’s refusal to renew the settlement moratorium in the West Bank (which did not include East Jerusalem), is more than anything a political statement. At best, it is showing that Israel still doesn’t understand the destructive effect of construction in settlements on the ability to continue negotiations. At worst, it is showing that the government of Israel is deliberately trying to damage the talks. In addition, it could also be a message from Netanyahu to the Israeli right – part of an effort to ease the pressure on him regarding the continuation of the freeze”.
It is also pressure that Netanyahu can either try to excuse away (as the previous Israeli government did with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the relocation of the Israeli police station from Ras al-Amoud, in East Jerusalem, to the area known as “E-1”, on the outskirts of Maale Adumim, on the way to the Dead Sea. It was announced, Condi protested, Israeli officials said it would take years — and then it was moved within a few months.
Hagit recalls, in her blog post, another parallel: “As I was reading the reports on the new tenders announced by the Ministry of Housing, I had an slight feeling of deja vu. Last December, the housing ministry made similar announcement regarding the plan for marketing in the upcoming year. This plan included 198 units in Pisgat Zeev and 377 units in Neve Yaacov in East Jerusalem. When the press and the world criticized Israel for that, some argued that it was only an announcement, not the actual publication of tenders. A few months later, in March, the tender of Neve Yaacov was officially issued and published. As we were quoted in the Israeli media criticizing those tenders, I got an angry phone call from the spokesman of the Ministry of Housing. ‘Why did you tell the media that we published a new tender in Neve Yaacov?’, he asked me. I tried to explain that I have the publication in my hand, but he said: ‘this is not new, we published it already last December’. Reading the reports in the media today, I think that it was not by accident. The publication today was somewhat vague. Some of the journalists say that the tenders were announced as part of a yearly plan, and some say they were actually issued. Politically, the devastating impact of this publication on the peace efforts are quite similar whether it would have been actually issued or if it was only announced. However, I believe that the ambiguity of the announcement is a way of the government of Israel to try to fool the world. Today they can claim: ‘It’s not issued yet, it’s only an announcement’, and when it will be officially issued and published (god forbid), they will say: ‘this is not new, don’t make a fuss’.” …
But, some countries may even be imposing their own “price tag” on Israeli settlement activities, particularly in East Jerusalem.
The U.S., however, stated publicly only that it was “disappointed”.
UPDATE TWO: U.S. State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley told journalists in Washington on Friday that: “We were disappointed by the announcement of new tenders in East Jerusalem yesterday. It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties”.
Asked if the U.S. had been “inforrmed ahead of time about their plans”, Crowley replied: “Yes”.
Asked to respond to information from “an Israeli official” that “there is a tacit understanding between the U.S. and Israel regarding this issue”, Crowley replied: “The Government of Israel is well aware of our concerns about this”.
UPDATE: Haaretz reported Saturday evening that the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said: ” ‘We have already said in the past that there is no longer a settlement freeze in Jerusalem’, the PMO said. ‘Regarding the relationship with the United States, they received notification of the plan before we announced it’. Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office also noted that even though the White House did not approve of the plans for further settlement construction, opposition to the settlements has been a U.S. policy for 40 years already. Over the weekend, sources in Netanyahu’s office said that as opposed to the time Israel announced new building plans during U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit and caused an international uproar, this time Netanyahu was well aware of the plans and approved them before the announcement was made”. This is published here.
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