Barring any surprises, the Jerusalem zoning board will approve on Sunday the construction of 176 new homes in the Nof Zion neighborhood. Nof Zion is actually a small, walled compound within Jabal Mukkaber, an enormous neighborhood in the southern part of East Jerusalem. The expansion of the Jewish settlement in the heart of this Palestinian neighborhood is bad news to anyone who cares about the welfare of the city, its inhabitants and Israel in general.
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Since the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump in late January, there has been a concrete shift in the Israeli authorities’ attitude to settler activity in East Jerusalem. Last week, the police helped evict the Shamasneh family from its home in Sheikh Jarrah, in favor of settlers. And two weeks ago, the police provided security for a parade that was part of a Torah installation ceremony at a synagogue in Batan al-Hawa (the so-called Yemenite Village), in Silwan. Local zoning boards have routinely given approval to many plans to build housing for Jews in East Jerusalem that had been frozen throughout the eight years of President Barack Obama’s time in office.
It appears the Trump administration will not bother to block Israel from building in the settlements and East Jerusalem, leaving it to Israeli decision makers to evaluate the implications of these proposals for the country’s citizens. A rational and clear-eyed examination will conclude that plans to expand Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and settlements within Palestinian neighborhoods should be stopped. In the short term, all such expansion adds to the tension in the city, to the Palestinians’ frustration and despair, and constitutes an enormous waste of resources on protecting the Jewish families living in the heart of a Palestinian community. In the long term, the settlement enterprise will also make it harder to hold a serious discussion about a peace agreement with the Palestinian people, which will necessarily involve a territorial compromise in East Jerusalem.
Even from a right-wing perspective, it is worth questioning the purpose of persisting with settling within Palestinian neighborhoods. Today, after more than 30 years and a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels, Jews make up less than 1 percent of the population in these neighborhoods. But their contribution to the tense relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem is incalculable. Hasn’t the time come for even politicians from the right to admit that this project has failed? That it is impossible to “Judaize” Palestinian neighborhoods that have tens of thousands of residents, and that Jerusalem’s Palestinians are not going anywhere?
The prime minister should order a halt to the Nof Zion expansion before he flies to New York for the UN General Assembly. He should consider not only the impact on the next election, but also the future of Jerusalem and the State of Israel.