Sometimes it is really hard for me to understand the mayor of my city, Nir Barkat. What was he thinking when he recently announced the promotion of the “Kidmat Zion” plan for a new settlement of 230 units at the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Abu Dis? Was he thinking that this way he can promote peace, stability and prosperity in our city? Or maybe is it that he was so blind to understand the city that he is in charge of? This plan is a provocation which is meant, if implemented, to prevent a two states solution by preventing a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and in the short term, it is meant to destabilize the fragile relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the city.
The plan (No. 7659) to build a settlement in Abu Dis is not new. It was presented in the local planning committee already in year 2000 but was never promoted. When Barkat was elected as mayor, one of his first actions was to try to revive the plan. However, the then legal adviser of the Municipality, stopped the plan.
The plan is for the construction of 230 housing units on some 97 dunams (24 acres) that were owned by Jews before 1948. Following 1967 those lands became under the responsibility of the Israeli General Custodian, and a few dozens of them were bought by Dr. Irvin Moskowitz, a rich Jewish American who supports the settlements in East Jerusalem. The JNF (Hakeren Hakayemet Leyisrael) also owns some of the lands. If the plan is implemented it will be the implementation of the Jewish Right of Return to properties owned by them pre-1948, and it will annul the moral basis of the Israeli claim that the Palestinian Right of Return should not be implemented in Israel.
In the case of Kidmat Zion in Abu Dis, the Government can easily prevent the plan: Much of the lands are directly controlled by Israeli General Custodian. The Custodian can simply declare that the lands will not be allocated for a settlement. It seems that Barkat, again, is challenging the Government with his provocations.
The Barkat Method: Holding the Palestinians hostages for settlements promotion
In his announcement, mayor Barkat linked between the promotion of a few plans for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the Kidmat Zion plan, claiming that if the settlement is not promoted, the plans for the Palestinians will not be promoted either. This method, of threatening not to promote Palestinian plans, is worthy of contempt. In the Bustan neighborhood in Silwan, Barkat insists that the approval to (some of) the Palestinian homes will be granted only when the settlement-park will be implemented. In Beit Yonatan, a house of settlers at the heart of Silwan that the Supreme Court ordered to evict, Barkat threatens that if he would be forced to evicted the settlers and implement the demolition order, he will implement demolition orders against Palestinians in the neighborhood (in Barkat’s nice words it was suggested as grating “a mercy” to the Palestinian illegal construction together with the settlers).
Experience shows that in similar cases when a plan was proposed to the settlers simultaneously with a plan proposed to the Palestinians, the plan for the settlers was realized but the plan for the Palestinians never was. Two prominent examples are the plan on the basis of which the Beit Orot compound was established in the Palestinian neighborhood of A-Sawaneh (plan no. 3092), which provided that simultaneous to building the settlement a school would be built for the Palestinian children in the neighborhood. Ultimately, the settlement was built but the school has not been built to this day. The plan to build the neighborhood of Ma’aleh Zeitim in Ras al-Amud was bundled with a plan to build and license 500 housing units for Palestinians, that was approved simultaneously, but since then the neighborhood for the settlers was built but only a very few houses were built for Palestinians.