For the first time since 1967, the Jerusalem Local Building and Planning Committee discussed a large housing project and master plan for infrastructure for east Jerusalem’s Arab residents, located in Arab e-Sawahra, between Jebl Mukaber and Abu Dis.
The project included 500 new apartments on 1,530 dunams (153 hectares) as well as a school, country club, and new highway. Also included in the project was a plan to retroactively legalize 2,000 apartments in the neighborhood.
Due to infighting in the coalition, a vote on the project was postponed for two weeks to a month.
Despite the fact that the master plan was initiated by the municipality, it faced nearly universal opposition by the coalition. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is facing challenges from the haredi factions, who are furious over his pick of City Councilor Rachel Azaria (Jerusalemites Movement) to be an additional deputy mayor.
City Councilor Meir Margalit (Meretz) hailed the project as the first time the municipality had taken meaningful steps to solving some of east Jerusalem’s persistent problems.
He said the project was expected to win initial approval, but that at the last minute the vote was delayed, ostensibly to give Barkat time to smooth over the coalition crisis and bring the haredim on board with his project.
“This is all dependent on internal politics in the municipality and the relationship of the mayor with the haredim,” said Margalit, who said the atmosphere at the meeting was “very tense.”
If it doesn’t pass, “Arabs are going to come out of this very frustrated,” said Margalit. “If they start to build illegally no one can blame them.”
Will the world call this illegal?