Givat HaMatos or “Airplane Hill”, so named for the military plane shot down during the six day war in 1967, has major new settlement plans for 2,610 housing units and 1,100 hotel rooms. These extensive plans were released earlier in the year, however the speed with which planning and approval these plans have proceeded is unprecedented. Givat HaMatos, “Airplane Hill”, is on the southern fringes of the city limits of Jerusalem. It was once a small quaint area with homes dotted on it. However after multiple evictions and theft of homes by settlers the area has seen major activity in the last 6 months. Indeed construction itself could start this year.
If this expected development goes ahead the result will be that Palestinian cities and neighbourhoods would be cut off from Bethlehem. This will have a detrimental effect on the goal of the Palestinian people to have their desired capital of an independent state.
‘There is only so much territorial abuse this tortured land can take before we kill the political option of saving the two- state solution,’ said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney who monitors urban developments which he thinks affect the chances for peace.
Of all the obstacles blocking to peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, the status of Jerusalem is arguably the most intractable.
‘It’s the most difficult symbolic issue for the peace process. It’s an emotional issue,’ Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu told Reuters earlier this month.
For Israelis, all of the city, including East Jerusalem, captured in 1967, is their ‘eternal and indivisible’ capital, the home the Jews dreamed of through 2,000 years of exile, and the site of their revered Western Wall.
For Palestinians, there can be no peace until Israel returns their control over East Jerusalem, a symbol of their national struggle and home to Islam’s third holiest site, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the glittering Dome of the Rock.
In the absence of a deal, or even meaningful negotiations, Israel has been busy developing the holy city, building impressive, stone-clad neighborhoods across the occupied land in defiance of constant international criticism.
This development has to be considered alongside further expansion of the settlements of Gilo and Har Homa, also close to Bethlehem. With up to 35% of Palestinian economic activity centered on a line that stretches from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem to Ramallah these illegal extensions to already illegal settlements will make this economic link untenable.
According to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 36 percent of Jerusalem’s inhabitants were Palestinian in 2009 against 28 percent in 1980. City officials say the figure will hit 40 percent by 2020. By contrast, 20 percent of Israel’s total population are Palestinians.
‘Jerusalem is not a Jewish city, not an Israeli city, but a bi-national city. It is not a united city. It is divided in more ways than you could care to imagine,’ said Seidemann, who is the go-to person for diplomats seeking information on town planning.