An Interior Ministry planning body on Monday approved continued progress for a plan to construct 2,200 housing units in East Jerusalem and to validate hundreds of others that were built illegally.
The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved for publication a master plan for the housing units, enabling the public to get a first look at — and protest — a scheme to build thousands of homes for the population in the Arab al-Sawahira neighborhood of East Jerusalem. By recognizing additional buildings that were constructed illegally, the plan will enable hundreds more homes to be included in municipal services.
Right-wing city council member Arieh King, a proponent of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, strongly opposed the plan. King wrote on his Facebook page before the planning panel’s meeting that “the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, will try and stick another nail in the coffin of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli control.”
The Hebrew news site Ynet reported that King sent a letter to Interior Minister Gilad Erdan claiming the plan was flawed and would enable the construction of many units more than the number detailed in the master plan.
A city hall official recently told the Times of Israel that of an estimated 50,000-60,000 homes in Arab neighborhoods, some 15,000-20,000 were built without a permit.
Illegal construction in East Jerusalem remains a critical problem for city hall, which is frequently accused by Arab residents of unjust, widespread home demolitions.
Israel says such demolitions are carried out because the structures have been built without the required construction permits. Palestinians and rights groups say such authorization is routinely denied, forcing unlicensed building.
In late 2014, the government approved a five-year budget of NIS 200 million ($52 million) to upgrade East Jerusalem’s physical infrastructures, develop community centers and vocational training, and ramp up policing in Arab neighborhoods where crime is rampant.
City Hall is also completing a project to map East Jerusalem’s 815 streets and 1,100 alleyways as well as providing them with street signs. The mapping project is hoped to help relieve a postal crisis in the eastern part of the city where mail is often deposited at the doorstep of local mosques or grocery stores, or in some 8,000 post office boxes. About 45,000 households have no access to the service.
Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.