In Jerusalem, There’s No Hiding the Dividing Line

Israel would be better off recognizing the reality in Jerusalem, instead of using municipal tools to annex territory and deprive Palestinian residents.

If there were need for any additional proof of the fact that even 43 years of de facto annexation and the settlement of hundreds of thousands of Israelis in East Jerusalem haven’t managed to erase the Green Line, it was given on Wednesday.

Shortly before Jerusalem’s local Planning and Building Committee was due to begin its meeting, its members received an updated agenda, from which two items had been erased: a plan to build a nine-story yeshiva in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and a plan to build a landfill near the eastern entrance to the city at the expense of a small Bedouin shantytown.

Based on past experience, it’s safe to assume that pressure from government officials, who feared creating a diplomatic incident, is what led to these discussions being cancelled.

The Green Line in Jerusalem reappeared on planning maps in March 2010 when, during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the Interior Ministry announced that plans for a major construction project in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood had been approved. The U.S. administration’s harsh response led the Prime Minister’s Office to put a hold on other diplomatically sensitive plans.

It wasn’t the desire to preserve the chance of achieving a negotiated peace with the Palestinians, and certainly not the needs of residents of Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighborhoods, that motivated the decision makers. It was only the fear of another American rebuke or another European boycott threat.

Yet another proof of the Green Line’s continued existence can be seen in the statement issued by none other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three months ago, following the second of four planned releases of Palestinian prisoners. At that time, Netanyahu announced a “compensation package” for the right wing – or perhaps a punishment for the Palestinians – in the form of construction plans over the Green Line in Jerusalem. If Jerusalem were truly united, it wouldn’t serve either as a stick for the Palestinians or a carrot for the right.

The construction plans that Netanyahu promised to advance in conjunction with this week’s prisoner release similarly included construction in East Jerusalem – specifically, the Kedem tourist center in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. This enormous complex, which is supposed to promote tourism, is expected to damage not only Israel’s relations with the West and the rights of local Palestinian residents, but also the unique skyline formed by the walls of the Old City.

It would be better for the Israeli authorities to recognize the diplomatic reality in Jerusalem and the existence of the city’s Palestinian residents once and for all, and to adjust their planning policies to the real needs of the city and those who live there, instead of using municipal planning as a tool for annexing territory and dispossessing its residents.

An Israeli flag hangs outside a settler's home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.Credit: Emil Salman

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