Palestinians to Resume Building in East Jerusalem After Municipality Pushes Back Against Far-right Pressure

Jerusalem's planning committee gives green light to construction plans after they were frozen for two months, during which Palestinians could not build

The Shuafat refugee camp, East Jerusalem, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

East Jerusalem Palestinians will now be able to build in the city after the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee resumed this week construction plans that rely on a long-standing procedure for establishing land ownership of Palestinians.

The move comes after representatives of right-wing parties and the secular Hitorerut ticket on the city’s zoning board voted against the building plans two months ago, prompting the committee to turn down 20 building plans.

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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.

After city council members Yossi Havilio and Laura Warton (Meretz) approached Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion regarding the matter, Lion and the local committee chairman Eliezer Rauchberger, from the Haredi party Degel Hatorah, said they would support the protocol.

"Without the mukhtar protocol, East Jerusalem residensts would be denied of submitting building plans to the committee," Havilio said.

Nevertheless, municipal officials said that there may be changes in the make-up of the mukhtar committees.

Right-wing representatives of the Jerusalem Municipality and the right-wing Regavim non-profit group have been waging a campaign against the mukhtar protocol over the past year.

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.

Towards the end of his tenure, Nir Barkat, the former mayor, also opposed the protocol, claiming that the existing list of mukhtars is obsolete and must be renewed.

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