Housing sovereignty

The expansion of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods to accommodate the city’s growing population is a matter for the municipality’s urban planners.

July 6, 2016 20:35
3 minute read.

A Star of David decorates a lamp post in Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem . (photo credit: REUTERS)

The US State Department on Tuesday accused Israel of “systematically seizing Palestinian land” after the government approved construction of some 800 housing units in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Spokesman John Kirby said the reports of new construction permits, which followed two deadly terrorist attacks, called into question Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed concern, urging Jerusalem to “halt and reverse” the plans for hundreds of homes, which “raise questions...which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank.”

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On Sunday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved hundreds of housing units in Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. But while the Jerusalem suburb of Ma’aleh Adumim lies over the 1949 Armistice Line, as do some Jerusalem neighborhoods, the latter are part of Israel’s sovereign capital, reunified in 1967.

The expansion of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods to accommodate the city’s growing population is a matter for the municipality’s urban planners. It is not the concern of third parties, such as the State Department, whose (yet another) uninformed knee-jerk reaction underlies a misconstrued support for the Palestinian Authority narrative, which negates Israeli sovereignty to begin with.

Although the recent “approval” of hundreds of housing units quickly followed the terrorist murders of teen Hallel Ariel and Rabbi Michael Mark, they were actually approved by planners in 2012. This week’s dramatic announcement came to placate right-wing politicians demanding more settlement – as if this were a solution to terrorism. Some even repeated calls for the immediate annexation of large areas of Judea and Samaria.

Such action would confuse the legitimacy of Israel’s sovereign capital with justification for settlement in the territories.

Building housing for the citizens of its capital is nobody’s business but Israel’s – and politicians should beware of dragging Jerusalem into the territories.

Mayor Nir Barkat opposes okaying building in response to terrorist attacks. “In Jerusalem, there is and will continue to be a Jewish majority,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “It is a mistake to approve construction in Jerusalem only after a terrorist attack. We need to build in Jerusalem always,” in accordance with the city’s master plan for development.

Part of the State Department’s obtuseness regarding Jerusalem derives from its persistent and inaccurate use of an obsolete term that everyone uses, but few understand: the Green Line. This term, which has become synonymous with “Palestinian territories,” is not an international border, but a line drawn on a map in 1949 to demarcate the cease-fire ending the first Arab war against the nascent State of Israel.

The Green Line ceased to exist in the 1967 Six Day War, the moment the armies of Jordan, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, shattering the 19-year-old armistice. Nevertheless, this outdated, misused term has generated another ideology-driven, but geographically impossible term: “East” Jerusalem.

There is no designation “East Jerusalem” (capital E), such as East London; but Israel’s capital does have southern, northern, western and eastern neighborhoods.

One absurdity of this situation ironically places in “East Jerusalem” the capital’s southernmost neighborhood, Gilo, whose land was purchased from its Arab owners by Dov Joseph on behalf of the Jewish National Fund before 1948.

Gilo was once indeed occupied territory: It was Jordanian-occupied Israeli territory from 1948 to 1967, after which Israeli sovereignty was restored.

Such distinction has not restrained Education Minister Naftali Bennett from declaring that adding housing to another southern Jerusalem neighborhood, Beit Safafa, threatens the unity of the capital. “It’s a de facto way of dividing the city,” Bennett said Monday at the opening session of the annual conference of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, which took place in Jerusalem.

But Aviv Tatarski of the NGO Ir Amim, which monitors Jerusalem affairs, told the Post that the 600 homes are part of a plan to expand existing buildings, not expand Beit Safafa.

The history of this peaceful Arab neighborhood mirrors that of the capital at large. Cut in half by the armistice line of 1949, the village was reunited as a Jerusalem neighborhood after the Six Day War. Its Arab residents are entitled to build some 600 housing units no less than the residents of the Jewish neighborhood of San Simon next door, whose 400-unit expansion was also approved – for reasons of natural growth, not in misplaced revenge for terrorism.

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