As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu begins his state visit to the United States, several senior cabinet ministers are preparing to take part in the inauguration of a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, as well as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat are all set to participate next week in a festive ceremony celebrating Ma'aleh Hazeitim, a Jewish compound in the heart of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud. The compound itself has been in place for several years and has already been populated.
The event is being staged by the Ma'aleh Hazeitim neighborhood, the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva and Florida-based businessman Irving Moskowitz, who purchased the land. It is unclear whether Netanyahu himself is aware of the plan.
Construction of the neighborhood began in the late 1990s, under a Jerusalem municipality building permit. The land was bought by Moskowitz from two Jewish groups that purchased the plot some 100 years ago, and the Supreme Court rejected petitions by Palestinians who claimed ownership of the land.
The neighborhood, along with other projects in Ras al-Amud, is seen as a strategic asset by the Israeli right wing, as it makes creating a Palestinian corridor between the Old City and the West Bank more difficult. Such a corridor was discussed in earlier negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Ma'aleh Hazeitim is intended to house 110 families, and another neighborhood, Ma'aleh David, is meant to be built alongside it at a later date. Once the two are linked, they will house more than 200 families and become the single largest Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.
The compound in which Ma'aleh David will be constructed served until three years ago as the headquarters of the Judea and Samaria police, until it was moved to a new location. Once the police left the building it was returned to the "Bukhara community committee," which has owned the structures and the land since before the War of Independence. Once Ma'aleh David and Ma'aleh Hazeitim will be linked, Ras al-Amud, a neighborhood of 14,000 Palestinian residents, will have in its center a Jewish settlement with 1,000 residents.
The plan is expected to exacerbate tensions between Israel and the United States, which has already said it opposes the construction.
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