Left condemn Jerusalem mayor for not exerting enough effort to advance the plan, which would somewhat relieve the extreme shortage of housing in Jerusalem's Arab neighbourhoods.
By Nir Hasson
23 June 2011
Right-wing and Haredi city council members are blocking an effort by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to build a new neighborhood for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, claiming the plan was poorly conceived and politically dangerous.
At issue is a plan to build 2,500 housing units on private land in the village of Sawahara in southeastern Jerusalem, apparently the largest plan ever drawn up for the residents of East Jerusalem.
While the municipality is sponsoring the plan, it differs from plans for Jewish areas because the landowners will be responsible for its development, rather than the city or the Housing and Construction Ministry. As a result, even if the plan is approved, it will be many years before the homes are built.
On Monday the plan was meant to be approved by the Local Building and Planning Committee, but committee chairman Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahalon had to cancel the vote when it became clear that the Haredi and right-wing council members were determined to foil the plan.
The left condemned Barkat for not exerting enough effort to advance the plan, which would somewhat relieve the extreme shortage of housing and infrastructures in Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods.
They compared it to Barkat's determination to get approval for the Gan Hamelech plan, which will involve demolishing Palestinian-occupied homes in Silwan to build an archaeological park, noting that Barkat had fired left-wing councilmen from his coalition when they voted against it.
"We see that when the mayor is really interested in advancing something he forces his coalition to toe the line, and even dismisses council members for it," said Efrat Bar-Cohen, an architect affiliated with the Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights organization.
Councilman Meir Margalit (Meretz ) said he thought the Haredim were attempting to flex their muscles after being angered by Barkat's decision to name Rahel Azaria, a councilwoman from the secular camp, as deputy mayor.
Right-wing councilmen say the plan is politically unwise.
"This plan will create a dangerous reality of a contiguous built up area between Silwan and Abu Dis, thus effectively legitimizing the division of the city," said councilman Yair Gabai (NRP ).
"It's also unworthy from a planning perspective; there was no study of land utilization in the eastern part of the city and it includes building on green areas," he added.
The municipality issued a statement saying that the mayor "ascribes great importance to the building of 2,500 housing units in Arab A-Sawahara."
The plan was debated by the local planning committee this week, the statement said, "and during the debate a number of members asked to receive more planning information about it. When the answers to their questions are received from the professionals, the committee will again consider the plan and vote on it."
JERUSALEM (AFP) – Jerusalem's municipal council on Sunday approved the expansion of 2,000 homes in the settlement district of Ramat Shlomo, allowing each home to add a room, the interior ministry said.
"Jerusalem's planning and urbanisation committee on Sunday authorised the enlargement of 2,000 homes in the neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo," it said in a statement.
"An additional room will be built in each of these 2,000 homes in response to the needs of the numerous families suffering from housing problems in this area," it added.
The Ramat Shlomo neighbourhood lies in an area of Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.
Israel considers Jerusalem to be its undivided capital, but the Palestinians, with the support of much of the international community, want to make east Jerusalem the capital of their future state.
Israel's construction or expansion of homes in the area has drawn criticism from European capitals and Washington in the past, and settlement building in Ramat Shlomo led to a crisis in relations with the United States last year.
In March 2010, Israel announced approval for the construction of 1,600 homes in the settlement neighbourhood just as US Vice President Joe Biden visited the Jewish state for meetings with Israeli officials.
The announcement angered Biden, and prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer an apology for the "unfortunate timing."
That announcement came as US officials laid the groundwork for the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the first in nearly two years.
The talks were launched later that year in Washington, but ground to a halt shortly after they started when Israel declined to renew a moratorium that froze settlement construction in the West Bank, though not in Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have refused to hold talks while Israel builds on land they want for their future state, and negotiations have remained on hold since late September 2010 because of the issue.