Israel expedites construction in occupied East Jerusalem amid rumours of 'Biden settlement freeze'

Israel expedites construction in occupied East Jerusalem amid rumours of 'Biden settlement freeze'
Fearing a freeze on settlement construction under a Biden presidency, authorities in Jerusalem have been ordered to usher through controversial building plans.
3 min read
12 November, 2020
Heavy duty machines of Jerusalem Municipality demolish a home belonging to a Palestinian family [Anadolu/Getty]
Authorities in Israel are preparing to expedite the approval of settlement building plans in occupied East Jerusalem over the next two months, Haaretz reported, ahead of an expected freeze on settlement expansion in the West Bank under the presidency of Joe Biden.

Officials in the city engineer's office and the Jerusalem City Hall urban planning division were instructed to speed up the approval of settlement units planned beyond the Green Line, the Israeli newspaper said, due to the recent US election win for the Democrats. 

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to walk-back parts of Trump's record - notably by opposing the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which the president-elect has described as an obstacle to peace.   

Construction plans for Israeli settlements in Givat Hamatos, Har Homa, Atarot and other neighbourhoods are being ushered through quickly due to fears that such plans will be more difficult to approve when the White House changes hands in January, Haaretz said.

The neighbourhood of Givat Hamatos in particular is sensitive as it could completely surround the Palestinian neighbourhood of Beit Safafa - potentially dashing all hopes for diving Jerusalem in future peace talks. 

A building freeze in Jerusalem under Barack Obama's administration was in part due to Biden, Haartez reported, and for many years construction in occupied east Jerusalem was practically frozen.

Under the leadership of Donald Trump - a stalwart ally of right-wing Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - construction was picked up again and hundreds of residential units were built. 

Netanyahu has received criticism from the Israeli right for delaying construction in Givat Hamatos, with calls for the premier to take advantage of Trump's final weeks in power.

"The problem is Bibi, not Biden. He is the only guilty party in the construction freeze in Jerusalem," said city council member Arieh King according to Haaretz.

But Aviv Tatarsky of the left-wing Ir Amim non-profit criticised Netanyahu for preventing a future peace arrangement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is planning to ask President-elect Joe Biden to return the US embassy to Tel Aviv, Israel Hayom reported on the weekend, after the embassy was relocated by Donald Trump to Jerusalem in a controversial move rejected by the international community.

Abbas will also reportedly request the US reopens the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, which was shuttered in 2018, and renews aid through the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), after Trump cut support.

Biden has promised to restore "humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people" and would re-open a consulate in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem "to engage the Palestinians".

But his 2020 campaign said he would not reverse Trump's embassy move, which at the time was rejected by the UN and the EU.

The Palestinian Authority had cut ties with Trump's administration, accusing it of being flagrantly pro-Israel. 

In a statement congratulating Biden and Harris, Abbas urged the incoming administration "to enhance the Palestinian-American relations".

Abbas said he wanted to work with the new administration "to achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for (the Palestinian) people".

Meanwhile, Israel's Deputy Prime Minister and Security Minister Benny Gantz is en route to approving 1,700 settlement units in the occupied West Bank.

According to a Wednesday report by Yediot Aharonot, the move appears linked to Gantz trying to satisfy the demands of Israeli settlers ahead of a possible new election, with potential competition for the right-wing vote between coalition parties Blue and White and Likud.

The Green Line is the armistice line from before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war - when Israel captured the West Bank from Jordanian control.

Israel has occupied the West Bank illegally since 1967, and commits various abuses against Palestinian civilians, human rights groups say.

More than 600,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in constructions considered illegal under international law.

Israel's plans to annex the West Bank have been denounced as an illegal violation of international law by world leaders as well as UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet.

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