The Jerusalem Municipality’s Local Planning and Construction Committee on Wednesday approved a large development for the Jebl Mukaber neighborhood.

The plan will feature 2,200 housing units and 130 hectares for the development of infrastructure, including parks, roads, schools, cultural institutions and businesses.

It will “strengthen Israeli sovereignty over east Jerusalem” by curbing rampant illegal construction and upgrading the standard of living in the Arab neighborhood, Mayor Nir Barkat said.

Still, City Councilor Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio in the municipality, described the approved plan as “too little, too late.”

“This plan was waiting for seven years for approval,” he said. “It’s good that they approved it, but it took 10 years of hard work by the developing architect to prepare [the blueprint], and another seven years for it to be approved. This is something that never happens in west Jerusalem.”

Margalit added that he took issue with the mayor’s contention that the plan would somehow strengthen Israeli sovereignty over east Jerusalem and “unite the city.”

“What makes me angry is the way the municipality presents this plan as strengthening sovereignty and that Jerusalem will be the united capital of Israel,” he said. “Once the municipality does something positive for Palestinians, they did it in a way that offends them by presenting it in a negative way.”

Moreover, Margalit said that due to a lack of infrastructure development in Jebl Mukaber, a number of obstacles remain that will continue to prevent Arabs from getting necessary building permits any time soon.

“I’m happy the plan was approved, but there’s still a long way to go for Palestinians to go to get licenses – unless the municipality invests in developing the plan’s infrastructure, which may take years,” he said.

In response, the municipality said because residents of the neighborhood did not pay taxes on thousands of illegal structures, the city could not invest the necessary funds to prepare the community’s infrastructure.

Illegal construction in public spaces and a lack of ownership registration in large sections of the neighborhood further hindered infrastructure planning and approval, the municipality said.

Against this background of “systemic failure,” Barkat said he hopes the approved plan will create a “material change” in the neighborhood.

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