While Bethlehem prepares for the Christmas festivities, the city council of Jerusalem is set to endorse the establishment of a controversial new neighborhood that would constitute a buffer between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Next Wednesday, Dec. 19, the Local Committee for Planning and Construction of Jerusalem’s municipality is to put the final seal of approval on the plan for the establishment of stage A of the Givat HaMatos neighborhood, at the southern outskirts of the city. The committee was scheduled to approve the plan on Nov. 21; however, under the pressure exerted by international elements and in consideration of the visit to Jerusalem of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who came to the region in the framework of the efforts to reach a cease-fire with Hamas, the plan was removed from the agenda. Not for long; its final approval is expected this week already, or immediately afterward.
It will be the first time in 15 years that Israel is building a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The resolution passed by the first Netanyahu government in 1997 to set up the Har Homa neighborhood — which physically separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem — at the time sparked strong opposition on the part of the Palestinians and a series of condemnations by the Western world and the Arab league. The plan for the Givat HaMatos neighborhood is at a far more advanced phase than the plan for the establishment of a Jewish neighborhood in the E1 area in the West Bank between Ma'ale Edomin settlement and East Jerusalem and which is designed to cut off the northern part of the West Bank from the south.