The Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee is to consider a plan for a new national park in the Mount Scopus area, which Palestinian residents and leftist activists say is designed to block the development of two Palestinian neighborhoods in the east of the city.
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The plan's explanatory notes say Mount Scopus' eastern slopes are vital to the area's landscape and archaeology. But the residents of the adjacent Issawiya and A-Tur neighborhoods say the plan aims to prevent these communities from expanding and to enable the building of a Jewish settlement.
The new national park would be built on 734 dunams, which the Palestinians say is mostly private land.
"They took the whole mountain away from us, there's nothing we can do," says Maluk Abdullah of A-Tur. "It's driving people crazy."
According to a member of Jerusalem's city council, Meretz's Meir Margalit, "This national park is a farce. There's nothing there but rocks and thorns, certainly nothing to justify a national park. The only reason for such a plan is to seize lands and hold them as a reserve for a future settlement, while suffocating the Palestinian neighborhoods."
Bimkom, a group of planners and architects that addresses human rights issues, has been advancing plans to renovate and expand Issawiya. The park plan scuttles their efforts, they say.
"These two neighborhoods are boxed-in from all sides, they have no other way for development," says architect Efrat Cohen of Bimkom.
The Palestinians fear that building the national park will require tearing down around 15 of their buildings in that area.
Yesterday the National Security Council discussed another controversial plan in the area known as the King's Garden, below the City of David in Silwan. The plan, promoted by Mayor Nir Barkat, calls for the demolishing of 22 Palestinian houses in Silwan and the approving of 66 illegal structures, to build a new tourist site and park. The residents and international community strongly object to the plan.
Right-wing sources say the plan might only be partially approved; that is, the illegal buildings would be approved but the park would not be built.
Another plan to build 1,600 housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood has been shelved for the time being. This plan's approval in March 2010, during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, triggered a diplomatic crisis between Israel and the United States.
The National Housing Committee, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set up to encourage construction, was supposed to discuss the plan on December 18, but the session was postponed and the plan is now expected to be processed in the usual procedure, via the planning and building committee.