The Jerusalem municipality on Sunday denied that it is advancing a plan to construct a massive Jewish neighborhood on the site of a disused airport north of Jerusalem over the Green Line.
According to a Walla news report, the initiative to build 15,000 housing units for Israeli Jews in Atarot, and another neighborhood of 3,000 units for Arabs adjacent to Beit Hanina, is the first major development plan proposed over the Green Line in two decades.
The municipality denied planning to build a new neighborhood in Atarot. “The idea was raised in the past by various officials, but in light of the shortage of business places in the city, the mayor ordered the development of workplaces on the site that will bring economic development and the creation of lots of jobs,” it said in a statement.
Atarot, located in northern Jerusalem, is situated over the 1949 armistice line that separated Israel and Jordan. It’s the site of a large industrial zone, where the city opened a large recycling plant last year.
The report surfaced on Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s capture of the Jordanian half of the city during the 1967 Six Day War.
According to the Walla report, the building plan is awaiting approval by the municipal engineer and city hall’s local planning and building committee chair. They were said to be set to meet with officials from the Finance Ministry to present the plan, which would build up one of the few remaining undeveloped tracts of land in the capital.
Officials in City Hall aim to push the development project through the approval and planning process in the coming year, Walla reported.
Despite the anticipated international outcry over the initiative, Planning Committee chair Meir Turgeman was quoted as saying he didn’t “see a problem from a political standpoint because the site was an Israeli airport.”
The Atarot airport, which has been out of use since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2001, was built by the British on land expropriated by a Jewish settlement and was completed in 1936. The Jewish village of Atarot was destroyed in the 1948 War of Independence.
“I want to provide solutions to the entire population of the city. There are young couples among the Arabs, ultra-Orthodox and general public,” Turgeman said.
Zionist Union Member of Knesset Nachman Shai warned Sunday that any such construction would lead to international condemnation. Previous announcements of construction plans in East Jerusalem garnered vociferous objections from governments worldwide.
Shai, who heads the Jerusalem lobby in the Knesset, said that the Israeli government “has managed as usual to mar a festival day, this time with a construction plan that only serves to stir international opposition and exacerbate the dispute over Jerusalem, and will ultimately not come to fruition.”
The Ir Amim organization, which is also opposed to the planned neighborhood, says, “It is a shame that instead of genuine plans to boost equality and reduce tensions in the city, they are trying to sell the public controversial construction plans whose implementation is in doubt.”