US, EU condemn plan for Jewish enclave in Palestinian Abu Dis

Washington says project undermines two-state solution, which US looks to advance via Saudi deal; municipal panel meets to approve plan as top Biden official arrives in Israel

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A picture taken on June 3, 2021, shows Israel's security barrier separating East Jerusalem (bottom) from the Palestinian village of Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AFP / Thomas COEX)
A picture taken on June 3, 2021, shows Israel's security barrier separating East Jerusalem (bottom) from the Palestinian village of Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AFP / Thomas COEX)

The United States and the European Union issued condemnations on Monday of an Israeli plan to build a Jewish enclave inside a Palestinian neighborhood straddling the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The condemnations from Washington and Brussels were issued as the Jerusalem District Planning Committee convened to advance the plan onto the final stages of approval before construction can begin in the coming months.

During Monday’s hearing, the district committee agreed to advance the project, but asked those behind it to address some minor concerns before the panel would reconvene a second time to approve the plan through the “deposit” stage of planning.

Asked for comment on the development during a press briefing, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said, “Our views have been clear and consistent: The expansion of settlements undermines the geographic viability of a two-state solution, exacerbates tensions, and further harms trust between the two parties.”

“We strongly oppose the advancement of settlements and urge Israel to refrain from this activity. We take the issue very seriously, as it impinges on the viability of a two-state solution. We raise it at the highest levels on a consistent basis,” he added.

The District Planning Committee convened shortly after US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf arrived in Israel Monday to brief government officials on her talks in Riyadh about a potential normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. That deal is expected to require major Israeli moves to advance a two-state solution — a framework that as Miller stressed, is hampered by projects such as the one in Abu Dis.

A spokesperson for the EU said in a separate statement that its long-stated position on settlements, including construction in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, is that it is “illegal according to international law and a major obstacle to achieving a two-state solution.”

Barbara Leaf, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, speaks to reporters at a media roundtable in Kuwait City on October 19, 2022. (YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

“The EU has consistently made it clear that it will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 lines, including in Jerusalem, other than those agreed upon by the parties,” the spokesperson added, urging Israel to cease construction beyond the Green Line.

The flashpoint project adjudicated on Monday would pave the way for Israel to drastically expand a Jewish enclave in the heart of Abu Dis — a Palestinian town sliced in half by the West Bank security barrier.

The proposed establishment of the new neighborhood was first reported in March by The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael, along with plans to build or expand Jewish enclaves or neighborhoods in other parts of the capital.

Dubbed Kidmat Zion, the new neighborhood is set to be built on a large plot of land near the security barrier in Abu Dis that pro-settlement figures in Israel have eyed for years.

The town is currently home to about a dozen Jewish families who live in two small residential buildings purchased by a US benefactor, one of a number of small Jewish enclaves inside Palestinian neighborhoods in the city that are meant to signal Israel’s hold over the entire capital.

Unlike some other enclaves though, where Jews have historical claims, Abu Dis lies far outside what most would consider Jerusalem’s core municipal area and holds no special importance for Jews beyond having been partially included when the city’s borders were expanded following the 1967 capture of East Jerusalem. Former prime minister Ehud Barak planned to cut Abu Dis and two other neighborhoods out of the capital in 2000 as a gesture to the Palestinians but shelved the idea when the Second Intifada broke out that year.

The area holds strategic value, however, abutting 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 in Abu Dis is being planned.

A screenshot of initial plans for a Jewish neighborhood in the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, as submitted to the Jerusalem District Planning Committee, in May 2023. (via Zman Yisrael)

Most of Abu Dis is outside Jerusalem and within the boundaries of the West Bank’s Area B, where the Palestinian Authority has civilian control. Some 15,000 people live in the town, including prominent Palestinian leaders and academics such as Sari Nusseibeh. It is home to a university and a large Islamic college, as well as Palestinian government institutions.

Also in the town is the hulking shell of a nearly complete five-story building which had been slated to become the Palestinian parliament, per a 1995 agreement between future PA president Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli lawmaker Yossi Beilin, a key architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, but Israel considers the entire city its undivided capital and protests attempts by the PA to operate inside the city. Abu Dis, which sits both in East Jerusalem and outside it, had been suggested as an alternative. It was mentioned as a possibility as recently as the 2020 Trump Administration peace plan.

The building stands a short distance from the outskirts of the proposed Jewish neighborhood.

The new planned enclave will blend into Abu Dis’s urban fabric, killing any chances of the town being regarded as a suitable home for a Palestinian capital.

The scheme is being pushed by Ateret Kohanim, a well-funded far-right group that buys land to settle Jews in East Jerusalem, and an organization called the Tenants’ Association, which purchased land in Abu Dis as early as 1926.

Shalom Yerushalmi contributed to this report

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