Plans for a controversial national park on Mount Scopus, near two Palestinian neighborhoods, were shelved by Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz on Thursday due to the area being “devoid of unique archeological remains that justify turning it into a natural park.”

Despite being planned for several years, Peretz wrote in a statement Thursday that the decision to freeze the plans was made after being convinced by legal experts, as well as other colleagues, that the area was not suitable for a park, after all.

“There is no doubt that this is an area with important natural value,” Peretz wrote. “It is the gateway to Jerusalem from the Judean Desert, and therefore constitutes a link between areas with a desert climate to the east, and a Mediterranean climate to the west.”

The statement continued: “Nevertheless, I wish to inform you that I do not intend to support the continuation of this process until we have held additional discussions to examine the implications for natural values, as well as the national and international ramifications.”

Construction of the park has been strongly supported by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

However, Meretz councilman Meir Margalit, who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, contended on Thursday that the planned park was never an ecological endeavor, so much as a smokescreen to thwart Palestinian construction in Isawiya and Artul.

“This was the last reservoir of land for the two villages, and the idea was to prevent them from continuing to build – especially near the main road to Ma’aleh Adumin,” Margalit said by phone Thursday.

The councilman added that he sent an email earlier in the day to the municipality’s legal adviser to note ongoing illegal razing of the area for the proposed park, prior to it being approved.

“Over the last two years many times every couple months the municipality, along with the National Parks Authority, entered the area and destroyed numerous structures, including one containing animals, in order to prepare the ground for the park even though it was not approved,” he said.

“I said this is illegal, but the municipality responded that [the park] will be approved, so it’s not a big deal,” Margalit added.

Indeed, Margalit said that the municipality said it was so certain the park would be approved that it preemptively entered the area to save time.

In response to Peretz’s assertion that it was suddenly determined that the area did not, in fact, justify building a park, Margalit said the government knew this all along, but wanted to use the land for “political purposes.”

“What I knew from the beginning is that the real motivation [to build the park] was political – to try to stop development of Isawiya and Artul,” he said.

“The motivation was to keep the land to perhaps build a new Jewish settlement one day.”

Margalit said this tactic is commonly referred to as a “Green Settlement.”

“Green settlements are places where settlers cannot build settlements, so they take the land to build a national park to make it a settlement in the future,” he said.

Reached for comment Thursday, Israel Nature and Parks Authority spokeswoman Tali Tenenbaum said the authority “would rather not comment about it.”

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