Analysis: Is Arab opposition to Silwan plan a facade?

City hall sources hint two sides closer to an agreement than has been reported.

Barkat big face 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Barkat big face 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
While Arab residents of the El-Bustan, or Gan Hamelech, section of Silwan have declared quite publicly they adamantly oppose Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s plan to redevelop their neighborhood, and reject any initiative that would see even one home demolished there, sources inside city hall and among the residents themselves have hinted that behind closed doors, the two sides are closer to an agreement than has been reported thus far.
Barkat on Tuesday heeded a request by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to delay the project’s launch until an agreement is reached with the neighborhood’s residents.
When details of the plan were first revealed to The Jerusalem Post more than two weeks ago, a senior city hall official said the municipality and Gan Hamelech residents were “very close” to an agreement and insisted that it was opposition from municipal legal adviser Yossi Havilio and State Attorney Moshe Lador – not the residents – that was holding up implementation.
Furthermore, after the Post first reported that residents had expressed outrage over the plan and rejected it out of hand, a different municipality employee said that residents who had been mentioned by name in the article as opposing the proposal, had been some of the first to express interest in it.
“They will be the last ones to say it publicly,” the source said at the time, “but they were among the first to respond positively to our ideas.”
The residents have offered a plan of their own that they say would be acceptable to all parties, in which the parkland is restored around their existing homes. However, such a solution would not address the problem of illegal construction in the area, which is a cornerstone of the mayor’s plan. The municipality, residents said, have made that clear.
The residents’ legal representatives have also given the impression that the situation is not exactly black and white.
One such representative told the Post on Wednesday that negotiations with the municipality were “moving forward,” and that he was supposed to meet with the city official who is overseeing the project before the end of the week to “decide on how to move forward.”
The representative said he could not elaborate on the details ofnegotiations because “at this point, there are things going on that wecannot publish in the media.”
Such comments come in stark contrast to those made by residents, whohave said that when it comes to their homes, nothing is negotiable.
If the residents were satisfied with the proposal as it stands,Netanyahu’s request to postpone it would probably have beenunnecessary, and the bulldozers would have begun rolling into Silwanlong ago.