In Jerusalem, an uptick in demolition orders of Arab homes
Amid Netanyahu's Washington visit, human rights groups say the city's new mayor has presided over an increase in initiatives that could thwart Palestinian statehood.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington getting an earful from US lawmakers about the need to stop Jewish settlements and establish a Palestinian state, back in Jerusalem the new mayor is implementing a very different policy.Skip to next paragraph
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Since taking office in January on promises to develop the city equitably, Mayor Nir Barkat has stepped up demolition orders of Arab homes in East Jerusalem, charged an Israeli human rights organization on Tuesday. In addition, he is moving forward with a $100 million development plan that would further diminish the city's Arab population and thus thwart Palestinian efforts to establish a contiguous state with a capital in Jerusalem.
According to the report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), 1,052 demolition orders have been issued since the beginning of the year, 34 of them signed by Mr. Barkat himself. So far, 23 have been carried out.
"The many demolition orders issued in 2009 suggest that this number will rise dramatically by year's end," the report stated.
The Mayor's office turned down an interview request but said in a statement the the "arguments of the ACRI are misinformed and wrong, accompanied with great disinformation; they are inflaming the issue in an irresponsible way without knowing the accurate facts."
In response to the report, the mayor's office provided figures that show demolitions in East Jerusalem in previous years has been similar or higher than this year's so far, arguing that there was no marked increase in demolitions carried out. The statement added that there has been no change in enforcement policy since Barkat took office, and "no foundation to the claim that an order was given to expand it.... The municipality acts in respect for the rule of law and enforces legal decrees as is expected."
Palestinian building curtailed; Jewish settlements expand
The report comes in the midst of Mr. Netanyahu's first official visit with President Barack Obama in the US since becoming prime minister. Underscoring their differences, Mr. Obama emphasized the necessity of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while Netanyahu conspicuously avoided an endorsement of that formula, saying that Palestinians should be able to "govern themselves" and that he favors increased economic cooperation.
Part of Obama's formula for restarting the peace process includes the expectation for Netanyahu to rein in Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank. That stipulation is outlined in the road map – a blueprint for peace adopted by Israel in 2003.
But for Palestinians, and for others supporting a two-state solution, equally troubling is the creation of new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem – Israel calls them neighborhoods – while building in existing Palestinian neighborhoods is severely curtailed.