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gan hamelech blueprint 311.(Photo by: Courtesy)
Right-wing MKs divided over Silwan rehousing plan
Plan set to provide living accommodations for Palestinians; National Union’s Ben-Ari: I want every illegal building to be demolished.
MKs on the Right were split Tuesday over a proposed plan to restore part of the Gan Hamelech section of Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood to public open space while providing living accommodations for Palestinians whose illegally built homes will be demolished to create the park.

The garden itself has existed since the days of the First Temple and remained almost entirely open space until recently. Today, there are about 130 Palestinian houses on the land, of which only 16 are legal. All the other houses were built after 1977, when the Jerusalem local and district planning councils allocated the area as public open space.

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On Tuesday, the Knesset State Control Committee discussed the problem of the illegal construction in Gan Hamelech, including a state comptroller’s report issued in October that detailed the background of the situation there.

The state comptroller’s representative, Shmuel Golan, told the committee that Gan Hamelech was only a small example of the situation in east Jerusalem, where roughly 20,000 housing units have been built without permits. East Jerusalem is itself only an example of the phenomenon of illegal construction throughout the country, he added.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told committee members that the municipality had devised a plan to solve the problem in Gan Hamelech and another section of Silwan.

The plans were based on the premise that it would be impossible to demolish all the houses in east Jerusalem built without permits.

Instead, under the new plan, illegal houses would be retroactively legalized wherever possible.

However, in cases where illegal houses were standing in the way of larger community needs, like roads and other infrastructure, the houses would be demolished. This principle would apply to many of the houses built in Gan Hamelech as well, said Barkat.

The proposal calls for a housing development with four-story buildings to be erected on the eastern half of Gan Hamelech. The first two stories would be used for commercial and tourism purposes, while the upper floors would include apartments for all those who had illegally squatted on the parkland. A large plot would be allocated for a community center.

At the same time, Barkat continued, the city would register the land and provide an address for each Silwan resident. Today, he said, the city knows the addresses of 10 percent of the residents of the neighborhood. This means it cannot send letters, including municipal and other bills, to 90% of them.

Not everyone was happy with Barkat’s solution. Right-wing MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) told Barkat, “You are giving a green light to lawbreakers. I do not accept this compromise. I want every illegal building to be demolished.”

Fellow NU MK Arye Eldad said the situation in east Jerusalem was “horrible. There is no rule of law.

The problems are too much for you. You are relinquishing control over east Jerusalem not for ideological reasons, but out of fear and impotence.”

Likud MK Yariv Levin said he found some good points in Barkat’s plan, but added that he would like to see “a different balance between housing permits and housing demolitions.”

MKs Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) and Uri Ariel (National Union) praised Barkat’s plan. However, Ze’ev warned that it lacked a means of preventing illegal construction in the immediate future, before the plan was implemented. Ariel, meanwhile, blasted the Justice Ministry for placing obstacles in the mayor’s way.

In the background, barely mentioned, was the future of Beit Yehonatan, a seven-story apartment house built by settlers in the other part of Silwan being replanned concurrently with Gan Hamelech. One of the conditions Barkat has requested from the government is a blanket moratorium on implementing demolition orders against all buildings in the areas being replanned. The moratorium, of course, would apply to Beit Yehonatan as well.

The Justice Ministry has refused to agree to a moratorium. Ministry attorney Hovev Artzi, who is responsible for combating illegal construction on the national level, said the ministry was prepared to give special consideration to suspending the demolition orders’ execution while the city’s plans for Silwan were going through the regular planning procedures and other necessary operations, such as settling land ownership claims.

However, Artzi said, it was impossible to grant a blanket moratorium as Barkat insisted.

This approach is not enough for Barkat and the Right, because it does not guarantee that Beit Yehonatan will not be demolished.

In fact, the state prosecution is insisting that the court-issued order to seal the building and expel its inhabitants be carried out immediately. The order was supposed to have been carried out after Succot, but in the meantime, the police have refused to provide protection for any demolitions in east Jerusalem.

“Why don’t you back Barkat?” said Ariel, turning to Artzi. “Do you want [the Palestinians] to build 30,000 more illegal houses in east Jerusalem instead?”
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