Responding to a petition against the freezing of building plans for Palestinians in southern Jerusalem, a lawyer representing the state informed the court on Thursday that a secret high-level Israeli political decision was the reason. The prosecutor offered to provide the court further information on the decision, but said it should be deemed “top secret.”
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About six months ago, the community administration of the Beit Safafa neighborhood and the Arab Ali Sharikat construction company filed a complaint against the state and the Jerusalem municipality, claiming that while their plans for hundreds of housing units were put on hold, similar projects by Jewish contractors were approved in the same area.
The case involves the development of land in the Givat Hamatos neighborhood near the southern edge of Jerusalem by a Jewish developer, and privately-owned Palestinian land for residents of adjoining Beit Safafa by Palestinian developers.
The construction of housing for Jews in Givat Hamatos is considered diplomatically sensitive. A number of foreign governments have been monitoring its progress because completion of the Jewish residential project would surround the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa with Jewish neighborhoods, making it more difficult to divide the city along demographic lines in the event of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Private construction by Palestinians on Palestinian-owned land, as presented by the current case, is not considered sensitive, however.
The petition alleges disparities in planning approval for a plot of land at Givat Hamatos, just to the east of Beit Safafa on land owned by the Israel Land Authority and slated for development by Jewish developers, and a second on Palestinian-owned land. Both plans underwent the same approval process and were given preliminary approval at the same time three years ago. However, without any explanation, only the Jewish plan was allowed to proceed to the next step toward final approval, in which members of the public are given time to file objections to the plan. The Palestinian construction plan was put on hold.
The state requested several time extensions to provide a response to the petition, until last Thursday, when it was filed. The terse, one-page response does not address the allegation of discrimination in the planning approval process, but states that the decision to halt the process of expansion into the Givat Hamatos neighborhood was made by political officials and that the reasons for it are confidential.
“The matter of the petition was brought before senior political officials,” the response states, and “in accordance with the position of those officials,” the plans cannot be implemented at this time “for considerations entrusted to the political level.”
The response goes on to say that no further elaboration can be provided, but the state wishes to provide a confidential affidavit and to hold a hearing behind closed doors or without representatives of the petitioners present. The affidavit should be considered “top secret” and should be stored in a locked courthouse vault, the response noted.
Mohanned Jabara, the petitioners’ lawyer, said following the filing of the petition that the state has now “brazenly” admitted that political considerations are behind the disparate handling of the Jewish and Arab building plans. Jabara called the government’s stance “racist” and a case of “clear discrimination.”
The petitioners will object to any government attempt to submit a confidential explanation for its position, he said, adding that the government’s admission should be a sufficient basis for the court to rule in the petitioners’ favor.