Obama raps Israel over new Jerusalem settlement plan
Israel pushed forward a plan to expand an East Jerusalem settlement on Tuesday, bringing stark warnings from President Obama and other world leaders.
(Page 2 of 2)
"The Foreign Secretary," it stated, "has been very clear that a credible deal involves Jerusalem as a shared capital. Expanding settlements on occupied land in East Jerusalem makes that deal much harder. So this decision on Gilo is wrong and we oppose it."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Successive Israeli governments have balked at suggestions that they curb building anywhere in Jerusalem, including in overwhelmingly Arab parts of the city that were under Jordanian control until 1967. Israel considers it a united whole where its sovereignty shouldn't be questioned. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded sharply in recent months when the US or other international parties have asked Israel to stop controversial building projects in East Jerusalem.
The city's like-minded mayor, Nir Barkat, casts the issue as one of discrimination. "Israeli law does not discriminate between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, or between eastern and western Jerusalem," he said in a statement. "The demand to halt construction by religion is not legal in the United States or in any other free place in the world. I do not presume that any government would demand to freeze construction in the United States based on race, religion, or gender, and the attempt to demand it from Jerusalem is a double-standard and inconceivable."
Arab villagers' legal action stymied
But in almost every Arab neighborhood, residents say they find it nearly impossible to get building permits from the Jerusalem municipality. Residents often build anyway at risk of demolition.
In the Arab village of Walajeh, half of which is inside Jerusalem municipal boundaries and half of which is in the West Bank, 47 such houses have Israeli demolition orders hanging over them.
One of them is the home of Saleh Hilmi, who is the head of the village council. Mr. Hilmi got together with other residents and, with the help of an Israeli lawyer, put forward a town plan for the village's expansion, in order to legalize the village's own natural growth and prevent the houses in question from being demolished.
But the municipality's planning commission – the same one that just approved the Gilo plan – rejected the plan presented by the Walajeh villagers, on the basis that the area is a designated "green area."
Meanwhile, a private business development company is seeking approval for a plan to build a large Jewish neighborhood in the area with up to 14,000 units, in a plan called Givat Yael. The plan, designed by architect Eli Reches, has not been adopted by any government body, but some in Netanyahu's government – such as Interior Minister Eli Yishai – have already expressed support for it.
Hilmi says the village council members were recently approached "though indirect channels" with an offer: if the people of Walajeh would cooperate with the plan to build Givat Yael, their homes would not be demolished. They refused.
"We rejected it immediately," says Hilmi. "This is our land and we have the deeds from Ottoman times to prove it. They want to expropriate all of this vacant land here," he says, pointing with the sweep of a hand to the green slopes around Walajeh, from which the built-up southern Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and Malha – with shopping mall and technology park – are in plain sight.
"If they build their homes here, that will give them a direct line to the Gush Etzion settlements," he says, "and it will divide us from other parts of the West Bank. We are not going to allow it."