Israel approves illegal settlement plan for over 9,000 housing units in Jerusalem

The new settlement plan approved by the Israeli Jerusalem municipality will permanently cut off Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from Jerusalem, and makes way for the annexation and Israelization of all of Jerusalem in the future

November 26, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Illegal Israeli settlement
Illegal Israeli settlement Ma'ale Adumim in Jerusalem. (Photo: Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency)

Israel has approved a massive new illegal settlement construction plan in the occupied West Bank near Jerusalem, drawing anger and outrage from Palestinians and human rights groups, multiple news reports stated on Thursday, November 25. The plan, which involves the construction of more than 9,000 housing units and various other tourism-related construction such as hotels, parks and commercial centers, received final approval from the planning and construction committee of the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem on Wednesday. The proposal will now be up for approval of the District Committee for Planning and Building of the Israeli finance ministry on December 6.

The proposed construction is to be carried out in an area known as Atarot near the Palestinian village of Qalandia, on approximately 1,243 dunams (124 hectares) of land. It also includes the site of a now-abandoned international airport/military base constructed during the British colonial period. The airport was shut down permanently during the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in 2000. Later, the area was handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA) during Israel-Palestine peace talks, with Palestinians planning to construct an

international airport on the site. The area holds immense importance as it connects Palestinians from Jerusalem to the West Bank. It lies between the Palestinian village of Beit Hanina, situated between Jerusalem and the Palestinian capital of Ramallah in the West Bank, with the Israeli-run Qalandiya military checkpoint in between, one of the ways Palestinians currently have to use to get from one place to another, enduring long queues and delays.

The controversial new plan is illegal under international law. As an occupying power, Israel is not permitted to annex the area or build for the purposes of resettling its own population on land that belongs to the people under occupation. Additionally, according to several sources, the construction of this plan will make the implementation of the two-state solution impossible. According to a statement by Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog, “this is a very dangerous plan which might bring a dangerous blow to the two-state solution.” The statement added that the planned Atarot construction “is at the heart of the urban territorial Palestinian continuity between Ramallah and East Jerusalem, and thus prevents the possibility of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The government must remove the plan from the agenda immediately and shelve it.”

Others have expressed similar concerns about the new settlement construction plan. Stop The Wall coordinator Jamal Jumaa said that the plan “would complete the circle around Jerusalem that was started by the separation wall in the South, cutting Jerusalem off from Bethlehem, and in Beit Hanina, sealing Jerusalem from the East.” He also noted that it includes tourism-related projects which are designed to “absorb the tourism movement in the city [of Jerusalem] into Israeli hotels in the settlements.” He claimed that “the Israeli authorities are working around the clock to complete the Greater Jerusalem project, which is accompanied with systematic expulsion of Palestinians from Jerusalem, especially through demolitions.” 

The Palestinian foreign ministry in a statement urging the US and other world powers to intervene and put pressure on Israel to stop such “colonial construction projects” said that the plan “aims to conclude the separation of Jerusalem from our outlying Palestinian area … in a bid to Israelise it, Judaise it and annex it.”

Following the news of the plan’s approval, international criticism and opposition to it is growing. Sven Kuhn von Bergdorf, head of the European Union (EU) delegation to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while on a visit to the site along with other EU officials, said that “the recent approvals of thousands of housing units for Israeli settlers are aimed at disconnecting the Palestinians from their city and changing East Jerusalem identity. Israeli settlements are in clear violation of international law. Such actions are not only in breach of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power, but they also … fuel tensions on the ground.”

According to news reports, 26 members of the US house of representatives in a letter to secretary of state Antony Blinken on Tuesday called upon the government to pressure Israel to refrain from going ahead with any settlement construction in the E1 area between Jerusalem and the West Bank, which is crucial for the creation of an independent, viable and contiguous future Palestinian state. Israel had ignored earlier warnings from the US and approved construction of 3,000 housing units in the E1 area in October. The areas of West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 following the six-day war and annexed in 1981, are supposed to be part of a Palestinian state in an eventual two-state solution to end the occupation. More than 700,000 Israeli settlers already reside illegally in these areas in violation of international law, along with millions of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

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