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Israel moves to further seal off Jerusalem from West Bank

Israeli officials approved plans for 2,612 homes on Givat HaMatos, a hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Critics say the move would so fragment Palestinian areas that drawing borders of a future state would be unworkable.

By Staff writer / December 19, 2012

Givat Hamatos is set to become the first new Jerusalem neighborhood to be built outside Israel's internationally recognized borders since 1996. Israel announced the expansion plans today.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP/File

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Jerusalem; and Bethlehem, West Bank

Israeli officials today approved plans for 2,612 new homes to be built on Givat HaMatos, or Airplane Hill, which is set to become the first new Jerusalem neighborhood to be built outside Israel's internationally recognized borders since 1996.

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The placement profoundly concerns Palestinians and advocates of a two-state solution. They say that it and other building projects under way would make drawing the borders of a future Palestinian state unworkable by fragmenting Palestinian areas, and thus could deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution.

“I believe that Givat HaMatos is a deal-breaker,” says Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney and founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, which tracks developments that could jeopardize a two-state solution. “How many times can you cut a worm in half and the worm starts wiggling?”

Some 549 new homes in Givat HaMatos for Arab residents were also approved yesterday, but went largely unnoticed amid a series of Israeli moves to expand building in East Jerusalem and the highly controversial area of E1, which would create an Israeli bubble deep into the West Bank. Critics of Givat HaMatos have called it a mini-E1. 

The US State Department yesterday used unusually strong language to criticize what it characterized as a “continuing pattern of provocative action” that jeopardizes a two-state solution.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes issue with that criticism. “Jerusalem is our capital and we feel like it’s not particularly controversial or provocative at all for us to build in it – we’ve been here for 3,000 years now,” says Paul Hirschson, deputy spokesperson for the ministry. “It’s not only a geographical area, it’s an idea. It’s our idea, and we put it on the map.”

Driving a wedge

In the 1967 war with its Arab neighbors, Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Old City, and expanded the borders of the city to include strategic high ground. As a result, the size of the city more than tripled virtually overnight. Israel annexed the whole area, proclaiming a united Jerusalem as its eternal and undivided capital. But the international community never recognized that annexation beyond the pre-1967 border, also known as the Green Line due to the color of magic marker that was used to draw the map, and considers the expanded portions of the city to be occupied land.

While much of East Jerusalem remains predominantly Arab, the Jewish presence there has expanded to roughly 200,000. Jewish neighborhoods have been established in areas that drive a wedge between Arab areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in what some say is a calculating political game akin to tick-tack-toe. The cumulative effect, say Palestinians and their supporters, is that it is becoming increasing impractical to establish a viable, contiguous Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

Under the Clinton Parameters, laid out by President Clinton in 2000 and widely accepted as the guidelines for drawing the borders of a future Palestinian state, Arab areas would be assigned to Palestine and Jewish areas would be assigned to Israel.

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