Israel Freezes Plan to Build Jerusalem Park Encroaching on Palestinian Neighborhoods

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz says proposal, which would hem in two East Jerusalem neighborhoods, has no 'particularly sensitive natural value.’

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz on Wednesday froze a plan to create a new national park on the slopes of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, saying the area has no “particularly sensitive natural value.”

The controversial plan is being pushed by both the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Jerusalem municipality. But left-wing groups and Palestinians charge that the real purpose is to block the development of two nearby Palestinian neighborhoods, Issawiyeh and A-Tur. As proof, they note that the area has no special natural or archaeological value.

The area slated for the park is the only space into which Issawiyeh and A-Tur can expand, and a few years ago both neighborhoods submitted plans to do so. But the planning authorities rejected these proposals and declared the area a national park. The park won initial approval from the regional planning committee almost two years ago but has made little progress since then – possibly due to fear of international pressure.

Over the recent Sukkot holiday, an employee of the parks authority was recorded admitting that the park’s main purpose was to prevent construction there.

“There is no doubt that this is an area with important natural value; it is the gateway to Jerusalem from the Judean Desert and therefore constitutes a link between areas with a desert climate to the east and a Mediterranean climate to the west,” Peretz wrote in his letter ordering the parks authority to freeze the plan.

“Nevertheless, I wish to inform you that I do not intend to support the continuation of this process until we have held additional discussions to examine the implications for natural values, as well as the national and international ramifications.”

In a press statement, however, Peretz said he made the decision after consultations with both ministry and legal experts had convinced him that the area was “devoid of particularly sensitive natural value or unique archaeological remains that justify turning it into a natural park.”

Michal Fattal