Israel Expedites Plan for 1,700 Housing Units in East Jerusalem

The controversial settlement construction in Ramat Shlomo was approved in March 2010, during a visit by U.S. VP Joe Biden; Israel decides to accelerate plans in response to PA's UN upgrade.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Israel is continuing to take retaliatory measures in wake of the United Nations decision last week to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state. In two weeks the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee will discuss a controversial plan to build 1,700 homes in the East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, in the north of the capital.

The committee will reconvene the following day in emergency session to approve another project, this one for hundreds of homes in Givat Hamatos, a Jewish neighborhood in the south of the city. It too is located on the other side of the Green Line. In addition, after a two-year hiatus during which the Interior Ministry demolished no homes, this week supervisors from the ministry began patrols in Arab East Jerusalem in preparation for resuming the destruction of illegally built homes.

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The plan for the expansion of Ramat Shlomo was approved in March 2010, during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The approval sparked an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between Washington and Jerusalem, as a result of which the plan, along with additional construction projects in East Jerusalem, was suspended.

Construction tenders will be published soon for another 800 homes in Gilo as well as 187 in Givat Ze'ev, as part of the government's announcement of plans to build 3,000 new residential units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Meanwhile, residents of Shoafat who own lands in the area submitted their opposition to the erection of the neighborhood. Attorney Sami Arshid, who submitted the petition on behalf of the residents, received a surprising phone call from the Interior Ministry on Monday, asking him to attend a discussion on the oppositions to the plan within two weeks. According to the law, the government can announce such a discussion a minimum of 14 days before it is held. Arshid, a seasoned attorney in planning and building issues, says the extremely short notice he was given for the hearing is unprecedented. "Something special is going on," Arshid told Haaretz. The hearing is part of a new Interior Ministry procedure intended to cut red tape. Ministry officials insists that the timing was a mere coincidence and that the plans have been in the works for two years.

Also Monday, residents of the Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and A-Tur reported that demolition contractors were looking at homes slated for demolition, escorted by Interior Ministry officials. For the past two years the ministry has not carried out home demolitions in the city, although the Jerusalem municipality has taken such action.

Adding to the tension, on Monday, Jewish settlers moved into a five-story building in East Jerusalem's Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood, presumably with the intention of establishing a new Jewish stronghold in the neighborhood. The building was constructed by a Palestinian but was sold to a foreign company that cooperates with Elad, a settler organization.

The Judea and Samaria District headquarters of the Israel Police may be one of the oddest police stations in the world. It is completely detached from the population is is supposed to serve. The fortress-like station was built on the top of a hill, with a narrow road leading up to it like the string of a toy balloon.

The surrounding barren hills constitute the area known as E-1. The government's recent announcement that it plan to build 3,000 new homes housing units in the area could lead Israel into deep diplomatic solitude. The area is the battlefield between two conflicting powers - settler initiatives, supported by right-wing cabinet ministers, and international pressure on Jerusalem.

In the decade beginning in 2000 massive infrastructure work was done in the area, including the building of what was to be the main road to Mevasseret Adumim, a planned satellite of Ma'aleh Adumim satellite. Huge sums were spent on building town squares, laying electricity and water conduits and leveling building plots. But after heavy pressure by successive U.S. administrations the plans were shelved. Today there is a kind of ghost town, with roads, squares and utilities but no buildings with the exception of the police station on the top of the hill. The silence is a mirror image of the international and political uproar over the area. On Monday, the only human life that could be seen were two Palestinians waiting for the release of their confiscated truck, and a small camel caravan passing in the distance.

A small gravel lot near the police has become a temple of sorts for the Israeli right and the Ma'aleh Adumim municipality. A ceremonious sign includes the September 2009 "Founding charter - the cornerstone for Mevasseret Adumim neighborhood: Here in face of the holy city and our eternal capital Jerusalem, we have all laid the cornerstone for a new neighborhood, Mevasseret Adumim, that God willing will be built and will strengthen out city of Ma'aleh Adumim." Meanwhile the neighborhood exists only in the imagination of those who laid the cornerstone - all the right wing Knesset members.

A number of days ago attorney Daniel Seidemann presented a set of maps that tell a complex story. Seidemann sees E-1 as the key to a comprehensive plan to surround Jerusalem with settlements and separate it from the West Bank. He divides the Jerusalem settlements into two distinct "circles." The inner circle consists of small ideological settlements surrounding the Old City, and the outer circle consists of larger government sponsored settlements surround Jerusalem. E-1 will be the missing piece of the puzzle, closing the outer circle.

The Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem, located beyond the Green Line. Credit: Emil Salman
A Palestinian shepherd in the West Bank.Credit: Emil Salman
The Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem, located beyond the Green Line.Credit: Emil Salman

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