In response to demands by Interior Minister Eli Yishai and right-wing members of the Jerusalem city council, the capital's planners are proposing to limit new housing construction in the undeveloped areas of the Arab sector in a way that does not apply to the undeveloped areas in the Jewish sector, critics of the plan claim.
They say the new restriction on Arab housing is included in the latest version of the Jerusalem Outline Plan, which the municipality hopes will be deposited for public scrutiny in the near future.
According to the proposal, the undeveloped land reservoirs in east Jerusalem such as Suahra (east of Jebl Mukaber and the Kidron Valley) and Tel Adasa (south of the Atarot industrial area) will not be designated for housing alone, but for housing, industry, commerce and green (open) spaces.
On the other hand, the parallel undeveloped land reserves in west Jerusalem will be designated for housing alone.
"The definition of the land use for the Arab development areas will be too broad and I fear a situation in which a right-wing city administration will exploit it to deny Arab building rights," Meretz city councilor Meir Margalit told The Jerusalem Post. "It will enable such an administration to seriously discriminate against the Arab sector."
Urban planner Efrat Cohen-Bar, from the Bimkom NGO, warned that the change in the status of the undeveloped lands in east Jerusalem "will give the local planning committee [which is made up of Jerusalem city council members] more latitude in determining how much of the area will be allocated for housing and how much for the other land uses included in the definition."
In other words, city planners and the local planning council could approve a plan in the Arab sector calling for only 30 percent residential use and still remain within the guidelines of the Jerusalem Outline Plan.
In the Jewish sector, the land designated for residential development will be used entirely for housing and the basic services required by the families living in the designated area.
Work on the outline plan, which is a statutory plan establishing the broad principles of the city's future development such as population densities, building heights and overall land uses, began in 2000. It is the first outline plan to cover both the Arab and Jewish parts of the city since east Jerusalem was annexed to Israel in 1967.
According to the Planning and Building Law, town planning schemes must be approved in two stages by the local planning committee and the district planning commission, which is composed of representatives of government ministries, environmental organizations and architects.
At the end of the first stage, the plan is deposited for public scrutiny and the public is given the opportunity to submit objections to the plan.
The local and district committees then consider the objections and either make changes accordingly or overrule them.
In the case of the Jerusalem Outline Plan, the city approved the plan for deposit in April 2007. The district commission debated the plan for a year and approved it, after demanding many changes, in May 2008.
However, when the new government was formed after the February 2009 national election, Yishai, who had been appointed interior minister, requested a freeze so that he could study the plan, allegedly after being warned by local right-wing leaders that it provided too much housing for the Arab population.
The new change in the plan appears to be the city's attempt to satisfy Yishai, the critics say.
The Jerusalem Municipality said, in response: "The master plan is still in ongoing discussions between the municipality and the Interior Ministry. Once the plan is finalized, it will be released to the public."