In Effort to Appease Israel's Right, Netanyahu Recycling Old Construction Plans in Jerusalem

Announcement of construction in East Jerusalem made public in middle of the night in answer to right-wing protest to Tuesday's prisoner release.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

As the second group of Palestinian prisoners were being welcomed in Ramallah Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced plans to “move forward immediately” on a series of controversial construction plans in areas of Jerusalem which lie across the Green Line.

The plans, some of which are recycled versions of older ones that have already been in the pipeline for some years, will fortify the Jewish presence in Jerusalem while obstructing expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods.

The announcement was made public in the middle of the night, in an attempt to blunt the right wing's protests against the prisoner release.

Officials in the interior minister’s bureau said Netanyahu and Sa’ar had agreed on moving forward concurrently with four controversial construction projects across the Green Line in Jerusalem:

1. The establishment of Mount Scopus Slopes National Park. As part of this plan, a national park will be established on areas east of the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus. The planned park is to be built between the Palestinian neighborhoods of Isawiyah and A-Tur, at the expense of land that had been intended for those neighborhoods’ expansion.

Officials in the interior minister’s bureau say the plan includes areas for rest and recreation, walking paths, bicycle paths, farming and environmental protection - but employees of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority admitted over the past weeks that the real purpose of the park was to block construction in the Palestinian neighborhoods.

Only three weeks ago, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, who is in charge of the Nature and Parks Authority, announced the plans were being frozen until further notice “to examine its international implications.”

2. Reviving the plan to establish the Kedem Center, a tourism and archaeological center in the Palestinian village of Silwan. A year and a half ago, Jerusalem’s District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of the visitors’ center, to be built over the Givati parking lot, opposite the entrance to the City of David. The plan was put forward by Elad, the non-profit organization working for the expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, including in Palestinian areas.

3. “Reinforcing” the plan to build 1,500 housing units in Ramat Shlomo. This means that within several months, it will be possible to start issuing building permits and marketing land to contractors. This is a recycled version of the same controversial building plan that has been moving slowly through the pipeline for some years. An announcement of progress on this plan during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in March 2010 caused a severe crisis between Israel and the United States, resulting in the plan’s suspension. After the UN accorded the Palestinians the status of a non-member observer state in November 2012, the plan was reactivated and has been moving slowly forward since then.

4. Reviving three more building plans in Ramat Shlomo that will allow construction of an additional room of up to 50 square meters in existing housing units there. The plans do not allow for the expansion of the neighborhood’s borders, but rather an increase in the number of residents.

The area where the Mount Scopus Slopes Park is being established, in 2012.Credit: Michal Fattal

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