National park
The mukhtar of Isawiyah, left, speaking with INPA head Shaul Goldstein, right, and Environment Minister Amir Peretz by the site of the planned park. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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The cabinet on Thursday ordered that a plan to build a national park on the eastern slope of Mount Scopus be expedited, along with other construction plans outside the Green Line. According to one source, the order was made as an effort to block Palestinian construction in the area.

Advancing these plans is apparently seen as a way to compensate the right for the release of Palestinian murderers late last month in the framework of the renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

At the end of September, an employee of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority was recorded admitting that the purpose of establishing the Mount Scopus park at a site between the villages of Isawiyah and A-Tur is to block Palestinian development there, rather than to preserve nature.

Opponents of the plan note that the site in question has no unique natural or archeological value that would justify its declaration as a national park. The INPA argues that the park will preserve the landscape that links Jerusalem with the Judean Desert.

There is a raging dispute over the national park plan between the Prime Minister’s Office and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, who vehemently opposes it. INPA employees told a hearing of the Jerusalem District Planning Commission on Thursday that Peretz had instructed them not to do anything to advance the national park plan. The hearing took place despite Peretz’s opposition, and a source familiar with the details said the commission had received orders to conduct marathon sessions in order to speedily approve the declaration of the site as a national park.

The area of the park is the only place in which the two Arab villages adjacent to it can expand, opponents of the plan say.

On Wednesday, Peretz held a meeting on the issue, during which he instructed INPA employees not to defend the plan before the planning commission and asked for suggestions for getting the plan rescinded altogether. He also wrote a letter to planning commission chairman Dalit Zilber, in which he asked that processing of the plan be halted “until we’ve exploited all the possibilities of reaching agreements.”

Peretz will apparently try to present a new plan that will reduce the area of the national park and limit the harm to the two Palestinian villages. But the original plan’s sponsors, - the IPNA, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority – will apparently continue to advance the current plan with the support of the Prime Minister’s Office.