In March 2010, Vice President Joe Biden visited Israel with the hope of pushing the Palestinians and Israelis towards a peace agreement. A 10-month settlement freeze which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in November 2009 was just drawing to an end with no engagement by the Palestinian Authority over the duration, but Biden was trying to move the parties forward.
Not long after he arrived, Israel announced the advancement of 1,600 homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo which is located north of the 1949 Armistice Lines. In response, Biden scolded Israel, saying “I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem.” The statement using “condemn” was shocking, as it is normally only used regarding terrorism. Netanyahu’s 10-month freeze also never included any construction in any part of Jerusalem, so the Israeli activity was not surprising.
Further, it is important to understand Ramat Shlomo.
Ramat Shlomo is not a vacant plot of land, it is not privately owned by Arabs and it is not located in the middle of Judea and Samara / the West Bank. It is an established Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.
- This “East Jerusalem” neighborhood is located northWEST of Hebrew University which was built in 1925.
- It is located southWEST of Pisgat Ze’ev, the second largest neighborhood in Jerusalem and just next to Ramat Alon, the largest neighborhood
- it is located northWEST of the Jewish Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest location
- It is located just on the other side of Highway 1 from Mobileye, a company which Intel bought for over $15 billion
The population in Ramat Shlomo is mostly ultra-Orthodox, and include Chabad and Litvish communities. The neighborhood has a median age among the youngest in Jerusalem and highest birth rates. Yet from 2006 to 2017, the population of Ramat Shlomo was flat at around 14,700 people. The lack of new homes and flat population growth despite the high birth rates meant that families actually had to leave their neighborhood. The Jerusalem Institute noted “The highest negative migration balance in relation to the size of the neighborhood’s population was recorded in Ramat Shlomo.”
Things finally turned around in 2018 with 500 new apartments commencing construction, the most in Jerusalem according to the Jerusalem Institute. The neighborhood also had the largest voter turnout for municipal elections in 2018, with 83% of eligible voters, indicating a highly engaged populace.
As the U.S. presidential election season moves into high gear, people will consider Biden’s relationship with Israel and the 2010 Ramat Shlomo incident will surely be discussed. It is therefore worth reviewing how Biden’s highly critical comments slowed the natural growth of that residential Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem for many years until just recently.
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