Jerusalem pushing plans for new Jewish enclaves inside Palestinian neighborhoods

Some 2,000 housing units in Abu Dis, Umm Tuba and Ras-al-Amoud, as well as a proposal for a new neighborhood, are being advanced by the city together with right-wing groups

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Horses walk in a farm belonging to a Palestinian family in Umm Tuba, with the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa visible in the background, Thursday, February 23, 2023. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)
Horses walk in a farm belonging to a Palestinian family in Umm Tuba, with the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa visible in the background, Thursday, February 23, 2023. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

Plans are being advanced by the Jerusalem municipality for thousands of new housing units in and around Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem set to be marketed for Jews, including in areas with no current discernable Jewish Israeli presence.

Plans include proposals for hundreds of homes in Abu Dis, a large Palestinian town that lies partially within Jerusalem’s municipal borders, as well as more homes in and around Umm Tuba in southeast Jerusalem, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site Zman Yisrael reported Friday.

Plans also include construction in Ras al-Amoud, a Palestinian neighborhood already home to the Jewish Israeli enclave of Ma’ale Hazeitim. Among that community’s residents is Jerusalem’s far-right Deputy Mayor Arieh King, who has been the driving force behind the new plans, being pushed by private investors and groups with the assistance of officials in the Jerusalem Municipality. King has long been involved in land purchases in East Jerusalem.

If completed, the scheme is liable to radically alter the Israeli capital’s demographic character while creating new friction points in the already fractious city. Similar developments have usually been accompanied by widespread international condemnation, and occasionally diplomatic pressure to reverse the plans.

In Abu Dis, planners are hoping to put up 250 to 450 new homes on two plots of land where a group claims Jewish ownership of the land going back to 1920.

Archival records show that in 1992, the city explored the possibility of developing the land, estimating that 500 units could be built there. The record includes an undated note to King answering a query about the land. The current project is being planned with the help of Ateret Kohanim, a well-funded far-right group that buys land to settle Jews in East Jerusalem.

An aerial view of the security barrier in Abu Dis. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Abu Dis, once touted as a possible home for a future Palestinian capital and which still hosts the hulking shell of a planned parliament building, is currently home to only some 10 Jewish families who live in two small residential buildings purchased by US benefactor Irving Moskowitz.

The area lies deep inside East Jerusalem, but it abuts a traffic artery being built along the eastern edge of Jerusalem that will link settlements south of the city to those in its north and east. The so-called American Road will include a tunnel beneath Abu Dis which will seemingly traverse the tract where the Jewish enclave is being planned.

Near the southern terminus of that road, in the Palestinian neighborhood of Umm Tuba, another 400 units are being planned, marking the first organized attempt to create a Jewish presence inside the village. The land for the project was bought by private interests.

Jerusalem is also looking to inaugurate a completely new neighborhood on a hillside between Umm Tuba and the Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, with room for some 1,500 homes. Plans for the neighborhood, to be named for the Roman aqueduct that once sped water to the capital, were first reported by Kan.

Workers take a break before European Union officials visit the construction site for the Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, November 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo/File)

If completed, the neighborhood will abut Givat Hamatos, where plans for new homes have been repeatedly stymied by international pressure. Critics say Israeli building in the area, already home to the large Jewish neighborhoods of Har Homa and Gilo, will cement Bethlehem’s isolation from Jerusalem, as well as the northern West Bank.

Ras al-Amoud is already home to some 1,500 Jewish residents in the enclave of Maaleh Hazeitim, one of several areas in the city where right-wing Israelis have attempted to establish a Jewish presence deep inside Palestinian neighborhoods, sparking friction and fighting.

Planners are now looking to add another 140 units to be sold to Israeli Jews in two new residential projects. One will be built over a former police compound and another will replace a Jewish-owned gas station.

The Jewish neighborhood of Ma’ale Hazeitim, at the heart of the Arab neighborhood of Ras al-Amoud, on the Mount of Olives, May 2011. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

At summits in Egypt and Jordan this year, the Israeli government committed to not advance new settlement plans for four months and not advance the legalization of West Bank outposts for six months, as part of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority designed to reduce tensions ahead of the Ramadan and Passover period.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967 and later annexed the eastern part of the city into its undivided capital. It maintains the right to build in any part of the city, and rejects the international community’s description of Jewish building in East Jerusalem as illegal.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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