Jerusalem Okays Jewish Housing in Flashpoint Palestinian Neighborhood

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The jumble of houses in Silwan.
The jumble of houses in Silwan.Credit: Uri Blau

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee has approved a construction permit for a three-unit building intended for Jews in the largely Palestinian Silwan neighborhood.

The Ateret Cohanim nonprofit group is behind the plan, one of its latest efforts to expand the Jewish presence in the East Jerusalem neighborhood. The new building will go up near Beit Yonatan, where Ateret Cohanim began settling Jewish families in 2004.

The land for the new building was sold to Ateret Cohanim by the Justice Ministry’s administrator general. The Prime Minister’s Office had put heavy pressure on the city not to approve the plan out of fears it would heighten tensions and damage Israel’s image, say sources involved in the matter.

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to prevent approval. In return, Barkat asked Netanyahu to endorse a stop-work order on construction by the Islamic Waqf religious trust in the Temple Mount area.

At the time, the Jerusalem municipal spokesman denied any linkage between the building permit and any stop-work order. Later the planning committee took the building permit off its agenda, but on Wednesday the matter was brought up for a vote and passed.

Eldad Rabinowicz, the lawyer who filed the request for the permit, said his side was “happy the city had approved the granting of a building permit on Jewish land.” He called the move “historic justice” for efforts that began with the First Aliyah, the start of Jewish immigration in 1882.

“We believe that this approval represents a statement of intentions by the Jerusalem municipality to develop the neighborhood for the benefit of all its residents,” he said.

Laura Wharton, a Jerusalem city council member (Meretz), condemned the approval of the building permit, calling it “another scandal in the Jerusalem municipality’s initiative intended to make noise, express support for the extreme right and advance plans that violate international law. This is a political plan that doesn’t even meet professional standards."

As Wharton put it, “It’s a shame there’s no one to stop the city’s recklessness that embarrasses its residents and endangers the little quiet there is .... City hall has become a circus, but the fire jugglers are throwing the torches at the audience.”

Ir Amim, a non-profit group that in part advocates for more equitable distribution of the city's resources to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, said: "The Netanyahu government has enabled yet another destructive step in one of the most sensitive areas of Jerusalem. In the process, it is showing its determination to foil any diplomatic solution to Israel's citizens and to the entire world, as well as demonstrating its lack of interest in improving the situation in Jerusalem."

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