Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced on Monday that he intends to promote the establishment of a new Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. About 200 new homes are being planned for the new neighborhood, known as Kidmat Zion, on a plot of land purchased by U.S. millionaire Irving Moskowitz, a longtime patron of Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.
On Monday, Barkat made his intentions known to the three Meretz party members of his city council coalition. They said in response that they would pull out of the coalition as soon as the mayor took a concrete step toward implementing the plan. That step is expected to come if and when the planning budget for the new neighborhood is approved during one of the next meetings of the Knesset Finance Committee.
Kidmat Zion lies between the East Jerusalem Palestinian towns of Abu Dis and Jabal Mukkaber, close to the separation barrier. The location is considered one of the most sensitive in East Jerusalem, due to its proximity to the building designated as the future home of the Palestinian parliament and its distance from other Jewish neighborhoods. The land was purchased by ultra-Orthodox Jews from Mea She'arim around the turn of the 20th century, and by Moskowitz over the past few decades for the Ateret Cohanim association. This organization brought in a number of Jewish families, who live alongside Palestinian families. To reach the area, one must pass through an Israel Border Police checkpoint. Palestinian residents have frequently complained of restricted freedom of movement in the area.
Barkat on Monday told the Meretz council members that under his leadership the city has done more than any of its predecessors on behalf of its Arab residents, and that many new neighborhoods were being planned for Palestinians in the eastern part of the city.
"We told him we cannot accept any involvement by the municipality in the matter of Kidmat Zion and cannot be partners in a body that promotes [Jewish] settlement in the heart of the place where the Palestinian state will be established. We cannot lend our hand to that," Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yosef "Pepe" Alalu said.
"Barkat is adding fuel to the flames," Meretz councilman Meir Margalit said. "The Palestinians cannot live with a plan like this, which will split East Jerusalem in two and destroy any chance of dividing the city and of reaching a peace agreement. In my opinion, he doesn't understand the serious implications of the issue for him," Margalit said.
In related news, the High Court of Justice on Monday turned down a petition by the descendants of the notorious mufti of Jerusalem against the sale of land once owned by Haj Amin al-Husseini to Moskowitz.
Muna Husseini is the granddaughter of Husseini, who led terror attacks on the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine and collaborated with the Nazis. She has said she wants to build a center for Israeli-Arab coexistence on the East Jerusalem site, on which the Shepherd's Hotel was later built. Israel's Custodian of Absentee Property sold the property, which ended up in the hands of Moskowitz.
The court accepted the position of the state, which argued that the petition against the sale was submitted too late.
When demolition and reconstruction work on the hotel began about a year ago, Israel came in for harsh criticism from the international community. Twenty families are slated to move into the building; the move is expected to trigger Palestinian protests and international criticism.
The municipality said in a response the the city's administration supports construction for both Jews and Arabs in a united Jerusalem, without regard for religion, race or sex, as mandated by law, and does not differentiate between construction for Jews or for Arabs.
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