Israel is presenting a controversial plan for the East Jerusalem district at the old airport

The Planning and Building Committee of the Jerusalem City Council on Wednesday endorsed a plan for a new district to house tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews at an abandoned East Jerusalem airport. The city’s support is an early step forward for the proposal, which is due to be discussed under the Ministry of Finance by the District Planning and Building Board on December 6th.

The new district is to be located on the site of Atarot Airport, located between the Palestinian district of Kafr Aqab and the Qalandiya refugee camp in the far northwest corner of the city, largely behind the West Bank security wall.

The plan includes the construction of 9,000 homes on the 1,243 Danube (307 hectares) area.

The airport, which closed after the second intifada eruption in 2000, was named a Palestinian tourist area in the “Century Plan” by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

After approval by the city panel, the Atarot project will still require several subsequent permits before the land can be demolished. The progress of the plan has been stalled for several years due to international pressure.

An Israeli government official said the project is in the early stages of planning and is likely to take years to gain government approval.

“Jerusalem is the living, breathing and growing capital of the state of Israel,” Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said. “The housing project will produce thousands of much-needed homes.”

Municipal opposition chairman Ofer Berkowitz welcomed the change and called it a “historic permit to build in Jerusalem.”

– There was a huge pessimism at the beginning of the road that we would not be able to bring about the establishment of the neighborhood, but here it happened today, he said.

Architects’ plans for a new district in the Atarot industrial area in East Jerusalem. (Municipality of Jerusalem)

Support for the Atarot project comes as Israel quietly promotes controversial construction projects in and around Jerusalem without making major announcements that could anger Biden’s regime. Critics say the latest movements, while gradual, are paving the way for rapid growth as the political climate changes.

Last month, Jerusalem’s local planning committee approved the expropriation of public land in the disputed Givat HaMatos district, which critics say would largely cut off Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem from the southern West Bank.

The same committee put forward plans to build 470 homes in the current Pisgat Zeev area of ​​East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, a military body scheduled meetings to discuss the planned settlement of 3,400 homes on a rugged slope outside Jerusalem known as the E1. Critics say building the area would effectively separate the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, making it impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“The fact that, at the same time, all these very controversial plans, which have long been international red lines, have now progressed … is a good indication that the Israeli government intends to promote and eventually approve these plans,” said Amy Cohen of the Left Group. Amim. last month.

Map showing the controversial Givat HaMatos district in South Jerusalem as the border between Gilon and Beit Safafa (Credit: Peace Now)

Israel considers the whole of East Jerusalem to be part of its undivided capital and says it should be able to build there at its own discretion. But most of the international community has never recognized the annexation of Israel to East Jerusalem and regards the Jewish neighborhoods there as settlements.

Every Israeli government since 1967 has expanded Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank, areas that Israel conquered in the Middle East War that year and that the Palestinians want for their future state. Palestinians see the settlements and Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which are currently home to some 700,000 people, as a major obstacle to peace and are considered illegal by the majority of the international community.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has criticized the construction of settlements as an obstacle to reviving the long-running peace process, but has not called for a freeze. In 2010, the announcement of the acceptance of some 1,600 homes for ultra-Orthodox Jews in the second part of East Jerusalem during the visit of then Vice President Biden exacerbated diplomatic disagreements that raged throughout Barack Obama’s presidency.

Buses parked at the former Jerusalem Airport in Atarot; in the background a high-rise building in the neighborhood of Kafr Aqab – formally part of Jerusalem but outside the security wall, November 2021. (David Horovitz / Times of Israel)

Biden, who as president prioritizes other challenges, such as COVID-19, China, and climate change, seems willing to avoid a showdown with Israel, a close ally of the United States.

“We have spoken publicly and privately about the status of the operation and integration of settlements,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price said last month. “We respond to all unilateral actions that make a two-state solution out of reach.”

Israel’s political system is dominated by pro-colony parties, and its new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, opposes the Palestinian state. But he is leading a heavy coalition of parties across the political spectrum – some are opposed to solutions – and seems to be looking for a middle ground that would ignore the issue at home and abroad.

AP participated in this report.

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