A new Jewish neighborhood that will be partly located in East Jerusalem has been given final approval by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee. Dubbed the Lower Aqueduct project, it will be the first major neighborhood in East Jerusalem to be approved since 2012.
The planned neighborhood will be built on both sides of the Green Line, south of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel kibbutz in southern Jerusalem, west of the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher and between the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa and the planned neighborhood of Givat Hamatos.
The Lower Aqueduct project will see some 1,792 housing units built on approximately 186 dunams (46 acres) of land, making it the biggest project to be approved in East Jerusalem since Givat Hamatos was given the green light in 2012.
The Ir Amim organization, which tracks the construction of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, said that under the plan, an access road to the new neighborhood will be built over the Green Line on private Palestinian land belonging to residents of Umm Tuba. Ir Amim said this land would likely be expropriated.
According to Ir Amim, the District Planning Committee called a session for November 29 with just a few hours’ notice and without citing an objective or agenda for the meeting, during which it approved the Lower Aqueduct plans.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion has said the project is necessary to expand the supply of housing in the capital. Ir Amim and others argue that the Lower Aqueduct neighborhood would make it extremely difficult to have territorial contiguity between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem.
Einav Ringler, director of the planning and projects department at the Israel Lands Authority, welcomed the neighborhood’s approval, saying it would offer “a vibrant and accessible urban area near Hebron Street and the future light rail line axis,” Channel 12 News reported. Ringler added that the neighborhood would have “a diverse residential mix that will suit all the needs of the population.”
Ir Amim was, however, strongly critical, saying the manner in which the neighborhood was approved was designed to prevent international objection to the development. It also said the approval of the large project contrasted sharply with the lack of construction approvals in Palestinian areas of the city.
“The advancement of this plan underscores the systematic discrimination implicit in Israeli planning and building policy in Jerusalem,” said Ir Amim in the wake of the decision to approve the Lower Aqueduct project.
“Since the beginning of 2023, over 18,500 housing units have been advanced for new or existing Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, while residential development for Palestinians has been all but neglected,” the organization added.