Once touted as Palestinians' capital, Abu Dis may shrink under annexation

“I can tell you 100% that the implementation of the annexation plan has begun.”

Abu Dis Palestinian police station (photo credit: KHALED ABU-TOAMEH)
Abu Dis Palestinian police station
(photo credit: KHALED ABU-TOAMEH)
As far as Abu Dis Mayor Ahmad Abu Hilal is concerned, Israel has already begun implementing its plan to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, including his town, southeast of Jerusalem.
On Wednesday morning, he woke up to the sound of Israeli bulldozers entering the Abu Mugheira area in the Suwwaneh neighborhood of Abu Dis, long touted as the future capital of an independent Palestinian state.
In recent weeks, every move by the Israeli authorities in the Jordan Valley and some Palestinian villages in the West Bank has been interpreted as a sign that Israel has begun implementing the annexation plan on the ground. Some Palestinians claimed that the IDF has removed signs warning Israeli citizens from entering Palestinian Authority-controlled areas to pave the way for implementation of the plan.
Others claimed that the Israeli authorities have begun distributing water and electricity bills to Palestinians living in areas that could be annexed by Israel, adding that this was an indication that the Jewish state was serious about its intention to implement the plan.
The bulldozers arrived in Abu Dis to demolish a one-story structure that was under construction and whose owners had ignored repeated warnings by Israeli authorities to halt the building. The structure belonged to the Surkhi family in Abu Dis. The bulldozers also tore down a wall surrounding a playground.
“I can tell you 100% that the implementation of the annexation plan has begun,” Abu Hilal said. “I see what happened today in Abu Dis as the beginning of the annexation plan.”
How is the demolition of the illegally built structure related to the Israeli annexation plan?
The structure was targeted because it is “located on the western side of Abu Dis, very close to the [Israeli] separation wall,” Abu Hilal said.
The Old City of Jerusalem is located a few kilometers to the west of Abu Dis, but the two areas are separated by large concrete slabs that make up the security fence.
The bulldozers also demolished a wall surrounding a soccer playground being built by the Abu Dis Municipality in coordination with the PA Ministry of Sports and Youths, Abu Hilal said.
“The demolition began around 1:00 a.m.,” he said. “We believe the demolition is directly linked to the annexation plan. The structure and wall are located very close to the separation wall and are part of Area C, which is under exclusive Israeli control.”
The annexation plan, if implemented, would “particularly pose a threat to the western parts of Abu Dis,” Abu Hilal said. “They [the Israelis] want to redraw the fence to include more land from Abu Dis in the areas slated for annexation.”
Abu Dis also would lose land on its eastern side, where Ma’aleh Adumim is located, due to the annexation plan, he said.
ABU DIS first appeared in the headlines after the signing of the first Oslo Accord in 1993.
An unofficial draft agreement between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Yossi Beilin, who in 1995 served as economy and planning minister, said Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries would be expanded to include nearby Arab neighborhoods (called “Palestinian boroughs”) such as Abu Dis, as well as Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Givon and adjacent areas. Together, these areas would be called the City of Jerusalem, which would be managed by one municipality with two Israeli and Palestinian sub-municipalities. The Palestinian boroughs would be placed under Palestinian sovereignty, while the Israelis boroughs would be under Israeli sovereignty.
Abu Dis was again in the headlines in 2000 when the PA started building a parliament building there. Its construction sparked rumors that Israel and the PA had reached a secret agreement to turn Abu Dis into the capital of a Palestinian state.
The number of people currently living in Abu Dis is estimated to be 30,000, including thousands of students and faculty members who study and work at Al-Quds (Jerusalem) University, which is also located west of the town, near the security fence.
Abu Dis is located in both Area B and Area C of the West Bank. Some 3,000 to 4,000 Abu Dis residents live in Area C, which may end up being under Israeli sovereignty if and when the annexation plan is carried out.
The Oslo Accord divided the West Bank into three administrative divisions: Areas A, B and C.
Area A is exclusively administered by the PA. Area B is administered by both the PA and Israel. Area C, which contains Israeli settlements, is administered by Israel.
“The Oslo Accord placed our town under Area B and C,” Abu Hilal said.
Voicing concern over the planned annexation, he said he and the town's residents have been in touch with the PA prime minister and government to coordinate their efforts to confront the plan.
“The annexation plan will take lots of our land,” Abu Hilal said. “Abu Dis will become much smaller. We will be turned into an enclave with a large number of residents. We will become one of the most densely populated areas in the region. The annexation plan will have demographic, economic and political implications for Abu Dis and its residents.”
Asked if Palestinians living in his town would accept Israeli citizenship as part of the planned annexation, he said: “I don’t believe Israel is interested in giving its citizenship to Palestinians. The Israelis don’t want Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. They are already going after Palestinians living in east Jerusalem who carry Israeli ID cards. Israel is not interested in the [Palestinian] residents; it only wants the land.”
Abu Hilal denied reports in Israeli media that claimed the PA had withdrawn its security forces from Abu Dis after Abbas’s May 18 decision to renounce all agreements and understandings with Israel, including security cooperation.
“The Palestinian police are still here,” he said. “They did not leave; the police station is still here. The security forces only reduced their activities; they’re not doing the same work they used to do before.”