Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is to formally unveil plans on Tuesday for the wholesale redevelopment of a section of the city’s Silwan neighborhood, involving the demolition of almost 100 illegally-built Palestinian homes and the rehousing of those residents in new buildings, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The plans focus on an area inside the southeastern neighborhood known as “Gan Hamelech” or the King’s Garden, which a senior City Hall source last month labeled “the second most incendiary place after the Temple Mount.”
Barkat is convening a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to detail the plans, which were first revealed by the Post last month.
Sources inside City Hall acknowledged on Monday that the mayor may well face questions about whether the announcement is sensibly timed, given the recent Palestinian rioting in Hebron, the Old City and east Jerusalem over last week’s government decision to include Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem on a list of national heritage sites.
The sources said, however, that formally presenting the plans “clearly and transparently” was a necessary step as they will in any case become public later this month, when they are discussed at a meeting of the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Council.
Tuesday’s press conference, which will be simultaneously translated into English and Arabic, is expected to generate considerable international media coverage, a City Hall source added.
The plans call for the demolition of nearly 100 homes built without the proper permits in Gan Hamelech, followed by a large-scale construction project that would see the entire area rebuilt and the Palestinian residents rehoused in new multistory buildings.
City Hall sources have called the plan a “pilot project to begin regulating building in east Jerusalem.”
It is also intended to improve living conditions for the 750 residents of Gan Hamelech, they have said.
The mayor’s proposal for the area also includes the construction of a commercial center, with businesses operating on the ground floors of the four-story residential buildings that will constitute the residents’ new homes.
Additionally, the plans call for hotels for an anticipated tourism influx, and health clinics and daycare centers for the local residents.
Barkat’s vision for the redevelopment of Gan Hamelech is part of a larger plan the mayor has been attempting to push forward that would retroactively approve all structures in Silwan up to four stories, thus resolving the vast majority of the building violations there.
On the legal front, however, Barkat’s plans have proven difficult to advance.
Due to opposition from municipal legal adviser Yossi Havilio and State
Attorney Moshe Lador, Barkat has threatened to implement a long list of
court orders dealing with illegal construction in the area – including
the evacuation and sealing of the seven-story Jewish-owned Beit
Yehonatan, but also encompassing dozens of Arab-populated properties.
Sources inside City Hall have repeatedly said that to solve the issues
at hand in Gan Hamelech and the wider Silwan area requires “creative
legal thinking,” which they complain Havilio and Lador have not offered.
They have accused the city attorney and the state prosecutor of taking
an untenably narrow legal viewpoint by pressuring Barkat to deal with
Beit Yehonatan alone, while the mayor is trying to find a broader
solution for the much larger problem of illegal building in east