On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Municipality released a double announcement. The good news (or bad news, depending on how you look at it) was that the city had demolished five illegal buildings belonging to Palestinians in east Jerusalem. The bad news (or good news, depending on how you look at it) was that the municipality was "promoting" building plans for 5,000 new apartment buildings for Palestinians "all over" Jerusalem.
It turned out that while the report on the demolition of the buildings was accurate - though it did not mention that 26 people had been left homeless - the report on the 5,000 new apartments for Palestinians was misleading.
According to Efrat Cohen-Bar of the group Planners for Planning Rights, the municipality is currently preparing master plans in three Palestinian neighborhoods, that may pave the way - someday - for the construction of 5,000 new apartments.
Cohen-Bar estimated that it would take 10 to 15 years before anyone owning land in the areas affected by the three plans would actually be able to build anything.
Master plans are not statutory plans. They generally provide an overview of what a planning area will look like some time in the future. Although they must be approved by the local and district planning councils, they are not deposited, and the public is not given the opportunity to raise objections.
Generally speaking, master plans serve as the inspiration for outline plans, which are statutory plans and are more detailed. Nevertheless, to actually build a structure, the landowner or contractor must prepare a detailed planning scheme conforming to the constraints of the outline plan, such as building density, building heights, minimum distance from the structure to the end of the plot of land, and so on.
Cohen-Bar told The Jerusalem Post that in the case of east Jerusalem, exceptions would be made and landowners would be able to submit detailed planning schemes on the basis of the master plans.
However, to receive approval for the local planning scheme, landowners will have to prove they own the land and register it. Although the British mandatory authorities registered land in the Arab neighborhoods of the urban areas of east Jerusalem, there is no land registration for the 19 villages that Israel expropriated and incorporated into Jerusalem in 1967.
The process involved in proving that the land belongs to those who claim it and the process of registering it will take many years, said Cohen-Bar.
This process cannot even begin until the city completes and wins approval for the master plans, a bureaucratic process that itself will take time.
In the municipal announcement, the spokesman also referred to two local planning schemes in Sur Baher and Abu Tor accounting for another 122 new housing units. However, it failed to mention that these plans had not been initiated by the city, but by the local residents, and at their own expense.