Israel Approves Major Settlement Expansion in Palestinian Neighborhood in East Jerusalem

Zoning board issues building permits for 176 new homes in Nof Zion, a Jewish settlement in the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber ■ Abbas calls on Washington to intervene

The Nof Zion settlement in East Jerusalem, located at the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, 2014.
The Nof Zion settlement in East Jerusalem, located at the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, 2014. Eyal Toueg

Israeli authorities on Wednesday approved a major settlement expansion in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem municipality and the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee issued building permits for 176 housing units in Jabal Mukkaber, in the southeast of the city.

The settlement of Nof Zion currently includes 91 apartments, and the expansion would make it the largest settlement inside the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem – surpassing Ma'ale Zeitim with its 200 families. Nof Zion was first populated six years ago.

Despite the issuing of the permits, construction is expected to be delayed due to a dispute between the land owners.

In response to the decision, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the Trump administration to intervene immediately in an attempt to save the peace process.

The Nof Zion and Jabal Mukkaber neighborhoods in East Jerusalem
Wikimedia Comments / Yakov

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The land for the project was purchased in the 1970s by developer Rahamim Levi. The Digal company that built it failed to market the project because of its proximity to the Palestinian neighborhood. Palestinian-American entrepreneur Bashar al-Masri tried to purchase the land, but right-wing activists eventually purchased it with the help of Jewish-Australian businessman Kevin Bermeister, one of the founders of Skype who has been instrumental in assisting right-wing organizations in East Jerusalem.

Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh condemned Israel's decision to build an additional 176 housing units in Jabel Mukaber. In an announcement published by Palestinian Wafa news agency, he noted that any building in the settlements is illegitimate according to resolutions adopted by the international community and the UN Security Council, and that striving for a diplomatic solution requires agreeing to an independent Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. To achieve this, international intervention is needed, including by the administration in Washington.

The request for building permits was made by Shmini Properties, which is owned by a number of foreign companies registered in Australia, the U.S. and the Cayman Islands. Peace Now estimates that Bermeister is behind the company. Israeli businessman Rami Levy owns 15 percent of the company.