On March 30, 2012, the Yediot local news weekly reported [Hebrew] that Jerusalem Mayor Barkat is planning to expedite the Kidmat Tziyon settlement scheme – Town Plan 7659. The plan was subsequently reported in the Israeli English-language press and reported in the Palestinian press. Key details are as follows:
- This is a plan for a brand new settlement of more than 1000 residents to be located on the boundary between East Jerusalem and Abu Dis, in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood. A map showing the location of the planned construction can be viewed/downloaded here.
- Implementation of this plan would have significant deleterious implications for the two-state solution, both in terms of political impact and impact on the ground (discussed below).
- Barkat is planning to inaugurate the scheme around "Jerusalem Day" events (on May 20), and has reportedly informed the Prime Minister of his intentions. The pursuit of the plan is reportedly timed to take place during the US Presidential election campaign, when it is expected that U.S. opposition will be muted.
- In pushing this plan, Barkat will portray himself as “friend” of the Palestinians. Barkat has, thus far, been unable to get even the most benign construction projects for Palestinians in East Jerusalem approved by the Municipality’s planning committee, reflecting the unpleasant reality that his coalition is even more racist than he is. Barkat will be framing the Kidmat Tziyon plan as a “win for everyone” by linking the plans approval with approval of Palestinian construction in Issawiyyah and Arab a Sawahra.
- Given the nature of the land involved (which falls under the authority of the Custodian General, who is part of the Ministry of Justice - discussed below), ultimate responsibility for the Kidmat Tziyon project lies with the government of Israel project, not the municipality. This means that if this project moves forward, it will disclose a decision of the Netanyahu government to establish a new settlement in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
- The Kidmat Tziyon plan involves construction adjacent to Israel’s separation barrier (in this area, a huge wall). In similar circumstances Palestinians have not been allowed to build in such proximity to the wall (for supposed security reasons) and some pre-existing homes have been demolished.
In the 1930s, a group of Jews purchased approximately 200 dunams of land in Abu Dis, immediately east of Ras al Amud. The land in question fell under Jordanian control after 1948 and in 1967, when Israel expanded Jerusalem’s borders, approximately 55 dunams of the land became part of the city and was placed under the authority of Israel’s Custodian General (part of the Ministry of Justice).
In 1994, the Custodian General, Amram Blum, published a tender for the sale of approximately 33 dunams of this land. The circumstances of this tender disclosed that the settlers had been given the “inside track” on the tender. Peace Now filed a challenge in Israel’s High Court of Justice and in the subsequent court proceedings (in both the High Court and the District Court), the Attorney General sided with Peace Now and against the Custodian General (notwithstanding the fact that both the Attorney General and the Custodian General both work for the Ministry of Justice). Blum, who about to end his term in office, continued to push the sale, with the active support of the settlers, but eventually the Attorney General (and the Custodian General who succeeded Blum) convinced the court that the best interests of the absentee owners required leaving the lands under the control of Custodian General, which is where they remain today.
In 2000, the Jerusalem Municipality first initiated Town Plan 7659, to allow for the construction of 220 residential units in Kidmat Tziyon. The plan stalled, initially due to construction of the “separation barrier” adjacent to the site. More recently the Municipality allocated funds to update the Kidmat Tziyon plan, but encountered opposition from the Municipality’s previous Legal Adviser, Yossi Havilio who asserted that the Municipality has no authority to establish new neighborhoods. This authority, he asserted, is vested in central government, not the municipality. (Havilio’s devotion to the rule of law led to his “coerced resignation”, and his replacement is expected to be far more pliable when it comes to settlement schemes like Kidmat Tziyon).
The situation today
Today, there are two settler houses on the Kidmat Tziyon site: one pre-existing house acquired by the settlers in 2004 by private purchase, and one built by or on behalf of the settlers, without a permit, during the same period. Complaints filed in the Jerusalem Municipality demanding prosecution of the illegal construction were ignored and, to date, the Border Patrol and publicly-financed private security firms secure the illegal structure and its settler residents.
In addition, in 2004 the Israeli Military seized the Cliff Hotel in Abu Dis (straddling the Jerusalem Municipal Boundary), using the Absentee Property Law. There is speculation (not unwarranted) that this seizure is related to the Kidmat Tziyon settlement plan.
This decision to proceed with the long moribund Kidmat Tziyon settlement plan has serious ramifications. It come on the heels of the expediting of the plans for the new settlement of Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem and efforts (currently stalled) to expedite plans for a new settlement in Atarot, in the northern part of the city.
Politically, this effort removes all doubt that the Jerusalem Municipality and Mayor Barkat, with and on occasion without the tacit or active support of the Government of Israel, are now wholeheartedly extending every possible support to both new and existing settlement enterprises in East Jerusalem.
On the ground, the Kidmat Tziyon scheme – which would establish a new settlement of more than 1000 residents in the heart if a Palestinian neighborhood – will have contribute to denying any future Palestinian state contiguity with East Jerusalem and, thus, a viable capital there – and in the past, the settlers have justified this settlement precisely on these considerations