About a week ago, the Ministry of Housing submitted a building plan to the Jerusalem Municipality for the construction of a new 9,000-unit settlement at the site of the Atarot Airport, between the Palestinian neighborhoods of Kafr Aqab, Qalandiya and Ar-Ram in East Jerusalem. This is the first step in the plan approval process and is expected to take several years before it receives final approval. If the plan is approved and built, it will mark the establishment of a new settlement in East Jerusalem for the first time since the Netanyahu government established the Har Homa settlement in 1997.
Peace Now: Netanyahu wants to strike another deadly blow to the prospect of a two-state solution. The planned settlement neighborhood drives a wedge in the heart of the Palestinian urban continuity between Ramallah and East Jerusalem, thus preventing the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with capital in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu is dragging Israel into a reality of a bi-national apartheid state and is putting the Zionist enterprise in jeopardy.
The Planning Phase – Throughout the years there has been talk of establishing a new settlement in the Atarot area, but these were mainly declarations of intent. In December 2015, Peace Now revealed that the Ministry of Housing had allocated about NIS 2 million to begin work on a plan for around 10,000 housing units in Atarot, but since then the plan had not been promoted. By submitting the plan to the municipality about a week ago, the Ministry of Housing must have completed the stages of preparation of the plan and is ready to begin the approval process.
The approval process includes a bureaucratic phase of preparation in the municipality and at the planning administration (a phase that usually takes several months). The plan will then be submitted for approval for deposit to the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee. After this approval the plan will be deposited for public objections, and after all objections have been heard, the plan will be submitted for final approval by the District Planning and Building Committee. The entire process, until final approval can take several years depending on various factors, including political influences to expedite or delay planning. The number given to the plan is Plan # 764963. (See more about the planning process in Jerusalem – here).
Location and Political Significance – The plan is at the heart of an urban Palestinian continuum stretching from Ramallah, through the Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods of Kfar Aqab and Qalandiya, to Beit Hanina and Shu’afat, home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents. The settlement is intended to drive a wedge and become an Israeli enclave that will prevent the Palestinian development of the central and most important metropolis in the future Palestinian state: the Jerusalem-Ramallah-Bethlehem metropolitan area. Establishing an Israeli neighborhood comprising thousands of housing units, which means tens of thousands of Israelis, will make it difficult for any future two-state arrangement for two peoples because of the lack of Palestinian continuity and the damage to the potential of Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
Land Ownership – Most of the plan area was considered “state land,” probably from the British Mandate when the airport was established. This allows Israel to build the settlement without the need to expropriate land from their Palestinian owners. At the same time, an extensive portion of the land is still considered private land and the plan is to implement a “consolidation and distribution” procedure (without consent) whereby all landowners will be allocated a certain portion of the land according to their land value.
The plan also includes the demolition of dozens of Palestinian residential units that were built in the area without permits throughout the years.