The Housing Ministry has begun advancing a plan to build a massive Jewish neighborhood in an East Jerusalem area that appears to be earmarked in the Trump administration’s peace plan for a Palestinian tourism center.
On February 9, the ministry submitted a building plan that would see some 9,000 housing units constructed at the site of the Atarot Airport, which has been inoperative since the breakout of the Second Intifada in 2000.
While the Trump plan does not specify where exactly in Atarot the Palestinian tourism center would be located, the airport is the only open area in the East Jerusalem neighborhood where such a site could be built.
The new neighborhood in Atarot would break a long stretch of Palestinian urban areas extending from the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shuafat north to Kfar Aqab, Qalandiya and Ramallah on the other side of the security barrier.
The project will still need to be authorized in several other planning stages that can take several years, but the submission of the building plan marks a significant step toward construction after several years of delays due to lack of funds.
The site designated for construction is mostly on state land but parts of the new neighborhood would sit on parcels currently privately owned by Palestinians, requiring the demolition of at least 15 families’ homes, the Haaretz daily reported.
In a statement blasting the Atarot building plan, the Peace Now settlement watchdog said the construction would prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with a 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 left-wing group added.
According to the Trump plan, Israel will maintain control over Atarot and all other East Jerusalem neighborhoods west of the security barrier. However, the Jewish state “should allow for the development by the State of Palestine of a special tourism zone in Atarot, in a specific area to be agreed upon by the parties.”
“We envision that this area should be a world class tourist zone that should support Muslim tourism to Jerusalem and its holy sites. We envision that this zone will become a thriving and vibrant tourism center that includes state-of-the-art public transportation that provides easy access to and from the holy sites,” the plan states.
The Palestinians have rejected the US peace plan, which envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in about 70 percent of the West Bank, a small handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most of Gaza and some areas of southern Israel — if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, disarm Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave, and fulfill other conditions.
The plan also allows Israel to annex settlements, grants the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and overriding security control west of the Jordan River, and bars Palestinian refugees from settling in Israel.
Israel has welcomed the proposal.