The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee committee on Tuesday approved the expansion of Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, located beyond Jerusalem’s 1967 borders. The plan calls for the construction of 640 new housing units, some of which will be built on privately owned Palestinian land.
The district committee rejected objections to building in the area, which lies between Ramat Shlomo and the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina and is currently designated as an open space, meaning areas that are not constructed and do not have a zoning plan. Major opposition to the plan came from the non-profit group Ir Amim, in part on the argument that the new neighborhood was would be built on privately owned Palestinian land.
The district planning committee rejected the objections, however, saying that most of the land belongs jointly to both Israelis and Palestinians and that the developers will buy out the Palestinian owners’ interests. Ir Amim, a group that aims at making Jerusalem “a more equitable and sustainable city for the Israelis and Palestinians,” said developers should have divided the land so that the each landlord would get construction rights in accordance with how much land she owns. This would have allowed the Palestinian owners to benefit from the plan as well; instead, the developers chose to submit a plan that does not take the Palestinian owners into consideration, Ir Amim said.
As a result, Ir Amim says, the private Palestinian lands were expropriated and will be used for roads and public areas. The areas earmarked for roads and public areas are in keeping with planning needs, the district planning committee said. The committee also considered objections from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which claimed that the area into which Ramat Shlomo is to be expanded is ecologically sensitive. The planning committee agreed with a portion of that argument and imposed restrictions so as not to encourage the proliferation of the rock hyrax, a small mammal that carries the skin disease leishmania, and limitations on fencing and lighting so that other wildlife in the area will not be disturbed.
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“It’s very disappointing that the district committee relied on formalistic reasons to approve a step that violates the property rights of Palestinian landowners through and through,” Ir Amim researcher Aviv Tatarsky said in response. “These aren’t extremist settlers in outposts somewhere out on hilltops in Samaria [the northern West Bank] but state institutions that are working in Israel’s capital city. This decision is additional proof that Israeli control in East Jerusalem means a regime based on serious discrimination.”
Ramat Shlomo, which is an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, is controversial for its location in an area the international community generally considers occupied since Israel captured it and all of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel annexed East Jerusalem, unlike the rest of the West Bank, in 1967. The most high-profile controversy over Ramat Shlomo involved the announcement in 2010 of the approval of 1,600 housing units in the neighborhood during a visit to Israel by then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. It sparked a crisis between Israel and the Obama administration.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry strongly criticized Tuesday's decision, which it said encourages the construction of additional settlements and proves that the Trump administration is biased in favor of the settlement enterprise. The ministry added that the move "encourages Israel's extreme right, which plans to swallow the West Bank and hinder any international effort to achieve peace based on the two-state solution."