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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.

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"They are not giving solutions for Palestinians to build, and yet they are building new settlements inside Jerusalem," says Nasrat Dakwar, a lawyer for ACRI. He added that under the new mayor, the municipality is even serving demolition orders on homes that are officially part of Jerusalem but are beyond the separation barrier, which wasn't done in previous years.

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The issue demands additional attention because later this week Israel marks Jerusalem Day, during which it will celebration the 42nd anniversary of what it calls the reunification of Jerusalem. Israel officially annexed all of Jerusalem, but other countries including the US to not recognize those parts of a Jerusalem as a legitimate part of the Israeli capital.

$100 million plan would dislodge Palestinians

In addition to demolitions, plans under way for a vast tourist complex near the Old City – as reported by Ir Amim, another Israeli human rights group – represent a looming Israeli footprint on largely Palestinian areas. Its proposed location, in the shadow of holy sites such as the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, make the project potentially explosive and suggest a renewed effort to prevent the establishment of an official Palestinian sector in Islam's third-holiest city.

One of the partners in the $100 million development plan is a private group named Elad, which focuses on buying Palestinian property in East Jerusalem and moving settlers into Arab neighborhoods. Several human rights organizations say there is an obvious link between the ramping up of demolition orders and Barkat's plans to develop the tourist complex in East Jerusalem – focusing on Jewish history in the area known in Hebrew as Ir David (City of David) and as Silwan in Arabic.

According to Ir Amim, which tracks policy affecting both Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, the under-the-radar project is motivated by a right-wing ideological goal of cementing Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem. That plan, which has not been made public, appears to be focused on moving Palestinians out of the historic heart of Jerusalem – areas near the Old City – while allowing some Palestinian growth in much more peripheral areas, such as those closer to the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"All of these things are linked, though not every house demolition follows this logic," says Sarah Kreimer, the deputy director of Ir Amim.

"The plan is based on moving as many Palestinians out of the historic basin as possible and making way for Israeli nationally controlled projects or settler projects," she says. "It's a plan to try to lessen Palestinian population in the center of town."

In reaction to such complaints over Barkat's performance so far, he announced last week that there would be an additional 13,500 additional housing units allowed for East Jerusalem's Arab residents, who are feeling the pinch of overcrowding in Arab neighborhoods.

"What he didn't say, and what we later learned, is that this is his plan for the year 2030," says Tali Nir, an ACRI lawyer. "What he declared is not a solution." Most Arab neighborhoods lack municipality plans for any new housing to be added. "Our message to the mayor is, allow planning in these areas, and until you do, stop demolitions and stop building settlements."