Panel Rejects Protocol Allowing Palestinian Construction in East Jerusalem

A committee turned down 20 residential building permits, ruling out almost any future Palestinian construction in the city's east

A building in Kafr Aqab, East Jerusalem, in 2017.
אמיל סלמן

The Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee turned down some 20 applications for residential building permits submitted by Palestinians, rejecting a long-standing procedure for establishing land ownership in East Jerusalem.

Representatives of right-wing parties and the secular Hitorerut ticket on the city’s zoning board voted against the building plans, while members of the ultra-Orthodox parties voted in favor.

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The significance of the decision goes beyond the rejection of these particular plans. In the long run, it rules out almost any future Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem.

About 330,000 residents of East Jerusalem face a serious housing shortage due to years of neglect of Palestinian neighborhoods, including the lack of any zoning plans and infrastructure in these areas.

The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, 2017.
אמיל סלמן

One of the most difficult obstacles to Palestinian construction in Jerusalem is the fact that ownership of about 90 percent of land in the eastern part of the city is not listed in the Israel Land Registry.

Consequently, Palestinian residents cannot prove property ownership and therefore they cannot submit applications for construction permits.

The problem has been dealt with in past decades with the “mukhtar protocol.” Anyone wanting to build on their land must collect signatures of consent from mukhtars, local leaders or clan heads recognized by the city hall.

Nir Barkat, the former mayor, upgraded this system by adding to the pool of local leaders city officials whose signatures could be recognized for this purpose.

Right-wing members of the city council, led by Aryeh King and Yehonatan Yosef, have campaigned against the system for a year, accusing local Arab leaders of being corrupt and of building without permits.

In a marathon session last week, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee approved dozens of building plans that had been stalled during the campaign for October’s local elections and the municipal coalition talks that followed. But it turned down around 20 plans whose permit applications relied on the mukhtar protocol.

While the local committee’s decision must be approved by the district committee to take effect, the development suggests the established method for determining land ownership is living on borrowed time.

“The claims were that the system had become a tool for corruption,” Elad Malka, the zoning board member from Hitorerut, told Haaretz.

Committee chairman Eliezer Rauchberger, from the Haredi party Degel Hatorah, said he voted in favor of keeping the mukhtar protocol because “it’s a good solution” to a problem.

Mohammed Abu Ghanem, an architect whose plan for 12 homes in Silwan was rejected, called the decision a “catastrophe.” He said “we have no other ownership documents to present, and 90 percent of the land is not registered.”

“It’s too bad that committee members want to deny Palestinians in any way possible the possibility of living securely on their land,” said Laura Wharton, a U.S.-born city councilwoman who heads the local Meretz party. “The new ‘mukhtar protocol’ has been developed together with the Justice Ministry to enable East Jerusalem residents to arrange land ownership and receive building permits. The city engineer recommended approval [of the plans] and those who opposed provided no rationale for rejecting his view.

“It is sad to see elected officials taking advantage of their power to advance a political agenda, in this case, an ultranationalist one, at the expense of city residents seeking permits for plans that city professionals had already approved,” Wharton said.