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Expansion of E. Jerusalem park onto church-owned lands back on municipal body’s agenda

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Priests pause on Palm Sunday on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, on Sunday, March 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Priests pause on Palm Sunday on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, on Sunday, March 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

A project to expand an East Jerusalem national park onto church-owned lands has been put back on the agenda of the municipality, despite assurances that the plan had been withdrawn amid backlash from local Christian leaders.

Plan 101-674788, which will extend the borders of the Jerusalem Walls National Park to include a large section of the Mount of Olives, along with additional parts of the Kidron and Ben Hinnom valleys, has returned to the Jerusalem municipality’s Local Planning and Construction Committee website with the session scheduled for August 31.

Last week, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority announced that it was withdrawing the project and would hold talks with local church leaders in order to come up with an appropriate way to preserve the territory in question.

Church leaders have opposed the expansion plan, pointing to the park authority’s close ties with the City of David Foundation, which works to expand the Jewish presence in contested East Jerusalem areas, including the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

An INPA spokeswoman says the parks authority will advance the project at this time and that she does not know why it was put back on the docket.

“First, they promote an abusive program that expresses contempt for Palestinians and Christians, and then they turn Israel into a liar that promises to take the plan off the agenda, but in fact puts it right back on. This not only hurts Israel, it is also silly because it is clear that this trick would be discovered,” says Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran.

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