Yesterday, in a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken spelled out the Biden administration’s outlook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the new president would support a two-state solution, and it was clear that Blinken’s understanding of two sates hewed closely to the visions for peace espoused by the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

But the specter of the Trump administration’s Peace to Prosperity proposal still looms large over Washington, Jerusalem, and Ramallah. Indeed, likely the only reason Blinken felt compelled to explicitly reinforce the Biden administration’s pro-two-state stance was because the previous administration’s framework went so far in the other direction, calling for formal Israeli annexation of around 30% of the West Bank and perpetual Israeli security control over the entire territory.

Nothing makes the Trump plan’s staying power more clear than pending Israeli construction in Givat Hamatos, a hitherto largely undeveloped part of East Jerusalem. Yesterday, a Jerusalem court lifted a suspension on bidding for construction tenders in the area. While the initial freeze prevented Israeli authorities from closing bidding before Donald Trump left office, the process is back online, providing the Biden administration with an uncomfortable introduction to thornier issues surrounding the status of Jerusalem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict writ large.

Building in Givat Hamatos would effectively mark the first new Jewish settlement in Jerusalem in two decades. Givat Hamatos threatens to isolate the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Beit Safafa and Sharafat from the rest of the city, disrupting the contiguity of a future Palestinain capital, as well as the connection between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Moreover, the tender put forth by the Israeli government for Givat Hamatos reserves 40% of new units for recipients of state-subsidized housing. Citizenship is a requirement for this benefit, thus leaving out nearly all East Jerusalem Palestinians, who only hold Israeli residency. All of this complements the Trump plan, which restricted a prospective Palestinian capital to two small areas east of the Israel-West Bank barrier.

Israeli plans for construction in Givat Hamatos were put forward nine years ago and later tabled following international backlash. However, the Trump plan’s release in early 2020 drove new interest in the area. Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a plan for Givat Hamatos in February of last year, just weeks after the launch of the Trump plan. The sequence is unlikely to be a coincidence. The Trump administration may have even signaled to Israel that it could build in Givat Hamatos as early as 2017.

Bidding is only one phase in a multi-step process of settlement construction. Given the Biden administration’s pressing domestic priorities, and other more acute international crises, it remains to be seen how quickly and in what manner the United States will respond to developments in Givat Hamatos. 

More importantly, the Israeli government’s reaction to any forthcoming American pressure will be telling when it comes to attitudes about the future of the Trump plan. Israeli officials have accepted that the permissive environment fostered by former President Trump and Ambassador David Friedman may not exist at present, but if they feel they can ride out strains in their relationship with the U.S., then they will set their sights on 2025 and beyond. The last administration changed the goal posts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by making a de facto one state outcome the objective of American foreign policy. Given the increasingly partisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, it is likely that Republican legislators will continue to champion the Trump parameters, while former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Nikki Haley, both champions of the Trump administration’s Israel policy, have long been eyeing the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

All of this is to say that the Trump plan will not go away on its own now that its architects have left office. The Biden administration will have to work hard to reinforce that Peace to Prosperity was the exception, not the rule. That should start with a firm response to Israeli plans for Givat Hamatos.

Jerusalem map (via Ir Amim): Givat Hamatos is just south of the Green Line.