The Jerusalem Local Building and Planning Committee on Wednesday approved a large construction plan for an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem over the objections of right-wing city councilors. The plan for the Arav al-Swahara neighborhood extends over 1,500 dunams (375 acres) and calls for building 2,200 homes.
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Although Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Deputy Mayor Koby Kahlon, who chairs the building and planning committee, had been trying to get this plan passed for several years, it was repeatedly blocked by right-wing activists in conjunction with Haredi city councilmen. Following legal action by neighborhood residents, with the help of the Hebrew University’s International Human Rights Legal Clinic and attorney Ziad Kawar, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the city council to debate the plan and make a decision.
Right-wingers, among them Mati Dan, head of the Ateret Cohanim association, which sponsors numerous initiatives to purchase Arab properties in East Jerusalem and settle Jews there, and City Councilman Aryeh King, tried to get the plan voted down. King even posted a Facebook status threatening to bolt the municipal coalition if the plan was approved. In the end, however, it passed with the support of Kahlon, Yerushalmim representative Tamir Nir, and Meretz councilor Yosef Alalu.
Habayit Hayehudi representative Dov Kalmanovich voted against, and the committee’s Haredi representatives abstained. The representative of the Hitorerut faction, Hanan Rubin, left the chamber moments before the vote, but insisted that he “had been present for 99 percent of the debate and left after I was sure the plan had a majority,” he said.
Barkat praised the decision, saying, “The planning of neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem by the municipality is a clear expression of Israeli sovereignty over all parts of the city and strengthens the unity of Jerusalem.”
He noted that in the absence of municipal planning, the courts were likely to order the approval of pinpoint plans that “do not address the entirety of the neighborhood, and the construction of public institutions that are lacking in the eastern part of the city. The alternative to orderly planning is the illegal construction of thousands of housing units and the takeover of large areas in a way that undermines the environment and Israeli sovereignty over united Jerusalem.”