Jerusalem Advances New Jewish Neighborhood in Area Earmarked for Palestinians

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Abandoned Atarot Airport, in March.
Abandoned Atarot Airport, in March.Credit: Emil Salman

The Jerusalem Municipality's planning committee approved on Wednesday the construction of a new neighborhood beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders, if established, it would be the first large Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem since Har Homa in the 1990s.

This area of the abandoned Atarot airport, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah, was originally intended to be transferred to the Palestinians as was agreed in previous peace talks, and rests on the grounds of a defunct regional airport in the northern part of Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in June of 1967.

Atarot, an abandoned airport north of Jerusalem.

The plan for the neighborhood includes 9,000 residential units in an area of 1,243 dunams. It is thought that the new neighborhood will be intended for use by the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem.

Abandoned Atarot Airport, in March. The plan is expected to provoke protests from the Palestinian Authority and the international community.Credit: Emil Salman

The plan was initiated by the Housing Ministry and drawn up by architect Yuval Kadmon. It must now pass through a number of additional steps before final approval. 

The Palestinian Authority and the international community are expected to protest against the plan. 

Israel originally hoped to turn Atarot Airport into Jerusalem's international airport, but no international airliner was willing to take off from or land there. It was used for domestic flights until 2000, but was closed after the second intifada broke out and has been abandoned ever since.

According to the plan approved by the Local Planning and Building Committee on Wednesday, the airport's historic terminal building will be preserved and rebuilt, and a series of paths and public spaces will be created around it.

The municipality's statement said the plan would use the last available land reserve in the city that can be developed without harming wilderness areas and be used to answer residents' housing needs.

Laura Wharton, the Meretz party's representative in the city council, is opposed to the proposal and said the land should be used for a Palestinian neighborhood. "For over 50 years, no new neighborhood has been built for the Palestinians, who constitute 38 percent of the city's residents," she said.

"Furthermore, this is an area that, of course, international law and the international community see as occupied territory, and Israeli citizens should therefore not be settled in it. In addition, the area has problems of ground pollution, air pollution and a security problem stemming from the location's proximity to the [border] fence and Palestinian neighborhoods, for whom the construction is a clear provocation. It is obvious that the plan is an attempt to satisfy the ultra-Orthodox leadership."

In recent months, the government has been promoting a number of controversial construction plans that stalled under the previous government. For example, infrastructure work has begun in Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem, and plans for a new settlement in Area A-1.  

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