Israel to Begin Construction on New Jewish Neighborhood in East Jerusalem

Developer to build 63 housing units near Arab neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber; announcement comes day after Bennett says construction in Jerusalem will resume in near future.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Housing Minister Uri Ariel and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat plan to attend a ceremony next week to lay the cornerstone for a new Jewish neighborhood near Jabal Mukkaber, a predominantly Arab neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem.

The news of their attendance comes just a day after Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said construction in Jerusalem would resume in the near future.

The new Jewish housing blocs are being built by the Bemuna construction company which, according to its website, has built neighborhoods across Israel for the national religious community since 1995. The company recently received a construction permit after a delay of about three years, which Bemuna officials say stemmed from political reasons.

The neighborhood, designed to include 63 housing units, is planned for the area that connects Jabal Mukkaber and the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv (which Bemuna also helped build). The housing units were sold five years ago to a group of buyers, and the company had received a construction permit for an underground parking garage, which has since been built. The construction permit for the rest of the neighborhood was delayed due to political pressure, and the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee put the construction on hold despite the plan having been approved.

About six months ago, Bemuna received written proof that delays in issuing the construction permit resulted from political concerns. The developers received a letter from then-Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s bureau chief, Yaniv Benita, who told them that Yishai has received the request regarding the new neighborhood’s construction. “Unfortunately, for political reasons, the plan cannot be discussed,” Benita wrote. “When the relevant permits are received for these plans, they will be discussed by the District Planning and Building Committee.”

Meanwhile, the head of Bemuna, Israel Zeira, said that politics must not play a role in Israeli construction and planning. “There must be an end to political interference in construction in Israel, and particularly in Jerusalem, which invites additional pressures from the international community,” Zeira said. He claimed that such delays only applied to Jewish construction and said that Bemuna may sue the Interior Ministry for damages over the delay.

“It’s impossible to describe the anguish and harm that the buyers of these apartments have endured,” Zeira said. “Anyone who wants to solve the housing problem cannot be driven by political reasons or surrender to American pressure again and again. At the end of the day, the apartment owners are the ones who pay the price.”

These planned housing units will not be the first Jewish community adjacent to Jabal Mukkaber. Nof Zion, a large, gated apartment complex, where Jews live in the midst of a Palestinian village, is nearby as well. Like Nof Zion, the new neighborhood is not an ideologically motivated settlement built by a right-wing non-profit group, but a neighborhood constructed by a private developer who caters to national religious Jews.

The cornerstone-laying ceremony also comes against the backdrop of municipal elections, a time when the incumbent mayor is seeking to curry favor with the national religious community, which could sway the election. Bemuna officials said that Barkat and Ariel both support the new plan.

In recent months, Jerusalem-area developers have complained of many delays in construction plans for Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line - evidently the Housing Ministry has delayed several construction tenders due to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set the wheels in motion for the first direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in almost three years. Israeli and Palestinian delegations arrived in Washington for discussions on the agenda for the nine-month-long negotiations.

The neighborhood of Nof Zion in southeastern Jerusalem.Credit: Tomer Neuberg

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