An attorney and NGOs representing Palestinian claimants boycotted a Civil Administration hearing Monday on plans to build close to 3,500 settler homes in a contentious area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement known as E1.
The Higher Planning Council hearing was expected to deal with Palestinian objections to the project, which is in an advanced planning stage.
The attorney for the Palestinians, Tawfiq Jabareen, and an NGO representing them explained to the council that for technical and bureaucratic reasons the Palestinian claimants had not been able to be present.
The Palestinians had understood that the meeting was to be held solely on Zoom, which uses technology that is unavailable to the Palestinian claimants who live in areas where the bandwidth is not large enough to allow for such broadcasts.
Other Palestinian claimants also live in rural conditions, without electricity.
Representatives of the Palestinians told the council that they were only informed that their clients could attend in person at 10:30 on Sunday night, and only if they observed COVID-19 requirements. To meet those dictates many claimants would have needed to receive tests and results in time for a morning meeting.
“Proper procedure mandates that their objections be heard,” Jabareen said, adding that therefore, “this meeting should be canceled.”
Alon Cohen-Lifshitz of the left-wing Israeli NGO Bimkom, said that the Civil Administration could not decide to allow them to physically attend the meeting and then shift its stance at the last second, particularly given the significance the plan has to area Palestinians.
The Civil Administration said that the meeting had never been physically closed to the Palestinians. It had received a request for clarification on the matter only on Thursday and responded on Sunday.
Cohen-Lifshitz shot back that a 10:30 p.m. notification could no longer be considered a Sunday response.
Another representative of the Palestinians, Attorney Netta Amar-Schiff, said that the possibility that the meeting might be held solely on Zoom was only known on Thursday, and as a result, they turned to the Civil Administration on the matter only at that late date.
She added that she herself had only understood at this moment that there had been an option for the Palestinians to enter even if they did not have a green pass. Nor, she said, was it clear to her or her clients what COVID-19 requirements had to be met in order to gain entry.
Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran said that she had been specifically told by the Civil Administration that the meeting would be held solely on Zoom.
The Civil Administration rejected the request by Jabareen, Amar-Schiff and the NGOs that the meeting be rescheduled.
“I don’t understand how you can continue to hold a legitimate hearing when [those who object to it] can’t participate,” Jabareen said.
“From my perspective, this meeting has not occurred and if necessary I will appeal to the High Court of Justice,” Jabareen said.
“You can continue to hold a discussion among yourselves and I will see you later, I am leaving,” he said.
The council then heard from engineers and architects about the details of the plan. Ma’aleh Adumim legal adviser Gil Rogen said that it was clear, however, the Palestinian objections were not technical and did not involve details of the plan, which they oppose for diplomatic and political reasons.
He referenced a High Court case filed back in 1998 with respect to an earlier version of the plan and in which, he said, the Palestinian objections were rejected.
“This council is not the forum” to address the Palestinian objections, he said, given that their objective is to redraw the city’s municipal lines to exclude E1 so that its land can be redirected for Palestinian use.
Once the proponents of the plan finished speaking to the council, the Civil Administration attempted to call on the dissenters, but they had left the meeting, which had initially been scheduled to last as long as six hours. The meeting was adjourned hours early and is set to resume on October 18.
The E1 project was first advanced in 1994 under the government of former prime ministers but was frozen for a long stretch of time due to opposition from the United States and Europe.
The Palestinians and the international community hold that construction on E1 would render a Palestinian state unviable because it would harm the contiguous Palestinian development of the area.
The Israeli Right has argued that all of Ma’aleh Adumim, including E1, should be within Israel’s sovereign borders. It holds that Ma’aleh Adumim’s location near the country’s capital is essential for the preservation of a united Jerusalem.