The weekly demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah
The weekly demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, which this week relocated to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan to protest against plans to demolish 22 illegally constructed Palestinian homes. Photo by Mochal Fattal
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The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee at the Interior Ministry will publish in the coming weeks a new blueprint program for development in Jerusalem that will include plans to expand Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Most of the land earmarked for this expansion is privately owned by Arabs. If the plan is approved, after objections to it are heard, it will grant official approval to an urban plan for the Israeli takeover of East Jerusalem.

Approval of the plan is expected to result in a wave of protest from Palestinians and Arab states, as well as international criticism of the government in Israel. The U.S. administration has made it clear to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it wants him to prevent all change to the status quo in Jerusalem until the completion of negotiations on a final-status settlement.

In October 2008, the District Planning and Building Committee decided to advance the blueprint plan, which was prepared by a team headed by Moshe Cohen, who was the Jerusalem planning official at the Interior Ministry.

Right wing elements and factions in the Jerusalem municipality complained to Interior Minister Eli Yishai that the plan would add large residential areas for the city's Arab population, at the expense of open space and also argued it would take away from areas earmarked for Jews.

Mayor Nir Barkat ordered adjustments to the blueprint plan in line with his support for broadening Jewish presence in the Holy Basin in East Jerusalem.

Even though the National Planning and Building Committee had determined that the City of David would be categorized a "national park," the blueprint plan allows the construction of residential areas there.

The Elad NGO, whose heads are close to Barkat, purchased in recent years homes in the village of Silwan, which is near the walls of the Old City, in order to "Judaize" the area.

Last week, the municipal planning and building committee approved Barkat's plans to destroy 22 homes in the Al-Bustan neighborhood, in the southern part of Silwan. Barkat explained that illegal construction in the area is blocking the plan to transform Al-Bustan, also known as Gan Hamelech, into a part of the national park.

A spokesman for the Jerusalem municipality confirmed that "in the coming weeks the plan will be brought for discussion before the district committee.

A statement from the Interior Minister's office said that "there are discussions at a professional level in order to approve the plan."