A good way to evaluate a policy is by examining the identity of its critics. The controversy surrounding the tenders issued on Sunday by the Israel Lands Authority for the construction of 1,257 new housing units in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos is a perfect case in point.
Outrage at the building plan, which has been in the works for six years, was swift to emerge from the usual suspects: the Israeli NGO Peace Now, the Palestinian Authority, the European Union and the United Nations. It’s basically all one needs to know before forming an opinion about the move.
Let’s begin with Peace Now. In September 2014, the organization that serves as a kind of settlement watchdog – growling and barking about every balcony added to an apartment in an area of the Jewish state that they deem “illegally occupied” – alerted fellow Israel-bashers across the ocean to the fact that the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee had approved the construction of homes in Givat Hamatos.
Never mind that the neighborhood, originally filled with caravans for the housing of new immigrants from Ethiopia, is outside the so-called Green Line.
Forget that the plan includes a phase of the construction of Arab housing on private lands belonging to the nearby Palestinian town of Beit Safafa.
Disregard the shortage of land available for Jewish housing in Jerusalem – a situation that has caused a hike in rent and purchase prices, as well as an exodus from the Israeli capital.
None of the above prevented the administration of then-US President Barack Obama from throwing a fit at the end of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Oct. 1 visit to the White House.
Though the purpose of the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama (in the presence of then-US Vice President Joe Biden) had been to discuss Iran and ISIS, it was upstaged by reports in the Israeli media, courtesy of Peace Now, about – gasp – apartments slated for Givat Hamatos.
In a briefing with reporters, then-US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki called the plan “contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians,” and said that it “will only draw condemnation from the international community; distance Israel from even its closest allies; poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations; and call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”
Netanyahu was miffed. “I think [the Obama administration] should be acquainted with the facts first,” he told NBC News at the time. “You know? First of all, these are not settlements. These are neighborhoods of Jerusalem. We have Arab neighborhoods, and we have Jewish neighborhoods.”