Suspended Due to U.S. Pressure, East Jerusalem Construction Plan May Be Revived

Plan to build 500 homes includes expropriation of private Palestinian land; Jerusalem is planning to thaw additional projects beyond Green Line in aftermath of Trump's election as U.S. president.

Emil Salman

Jerusalem’s zoning board is set to discuss a plan on Wednesday to build 500 homes in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood located over the Green Line in East Jerusalem.

The plan was approved two years ago by the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee, but was later suspended due to pressure from the U.S.

In anticipation of the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. president in January, city officials have begun to “thaw” building projects in the capital that had been “frozen.”

The envisioned project is to be built on a 76-dunam (19-acre) lot between the existing Ramat Shlomo neighborhood and the Palestinian neighborhood of Shoafat. The land for the apartment buildings themselves is owned by Jews, but private Palestinian land would be expropriated for the new residential area’s roads and public parks.

During a zoning board meeting two years ago, a researcher for a Jerusalem civil-society organization claimed that Jewish developers were profiting at the expense of the Palestinian landowners.

Aviv Tatarsky argued that instead of allowing all of the owners of the land for the project, both Jewish and Palestinian, to profit in accordance with their share of the total amount of land, the project was designed so that all of the residential and commercial buildings would be on Jewish-owned land, while the unprofitable roads and public spaces would be built on Palestinian-owned land.

The Jerusalem municipality’s representative at the meeting admitted that city hall joined the plan in order to enable the expropriation of land owned by Palestinians. He also argued that the Palestinian landowners could not be found.

However, a few days after the committee meeting, Ir Amim legal counsel Ishay Shneydor informed the panel in writing that the nonprofit organization easily found the individuals, who it said were shocked to hear of the building plans.

Shneydor never received a response to his letter, which presumably contributed to the decision to suspend the project.

The area designated for the new neighborhood has also been designated by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel as important for biodiversity, with fallow deer, hyraxes and bird nesting grounds in the nearby Atarot riverbed.

In a statement, the Jerusalem municipality noted that the plan had been approved in the past and that changes had been made.

“The municipality’s sole role in the project is in arranging for road access. The plan is being submitted by private landowners, and in the event individuals claiming land ownership submit reservations, the planning bodies will discuss the issue in accordance with law,” the statement said.