east jerusalem



The Local Committee for Planning and Construction in the Jerusalem Municipality will discuss on Sunday a plan to expand the Jewish neighborhood of Nof Zion in the city’s east by 176 housing units.

If the plan is approved, Nof Zion will the biggest among the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem within an Arab neighborhood.

For now, there are 91 housing units in the neighborhood, which is surrounded by the southeastern Arab neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber.

During the 1990s, real-estate contractors purchased a plot of land in Jebl Mukaber from Arabs and prepared a construction plan for the area.

In 1994, the construction of 395 housing units was approved, and in the early 2000s the first phase of the project saw the construction of the current 91 housing units in Nof Zion.

About a year ago, Shemini Properties Ltd., which owns a significant portion of the plot, requested construction permits for 13 buildings to contain a total of 176 housing units, which will be discussed in Sunday’s meeting.

Peace Now condemned the request, and said approving an expansion of a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem would be yet another move damaging the two-state solution.

“It appears that the government has opened all the floodgates when it comes to settlement developments within Palestinian neighborhoods,” the NGO said in a statement.

“Building a large settlement in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood would constitute a severe blow to Jerusalem and to the chance to arrive at a two-state solution. This is not a matter of real estate but a matter of politics and sovereignty, as the Israelis moving to homes inside Palestinian neighborhoods are motivated solely by ideology, and are trying to prevent a future compromise in Jerusalem.”


Bill to hinder East Jerusalem withdrawal clears first hurdle

Lawmakers on Wednesday approved in its preliminary reading a bill that would require a special two-thirds support of the Knesset to relinquish any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians under a future peace accord.

The bill, which was proposed by Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and has coalition backing, cleared the initial hurdle in the Knesset with 58 MKs in favor and 48 opposed.

“The goal of the bill is to prevent concessions as part of diplomatic deals,” said Moalem-Refaeli on Wednesday. “Jerusalem will never be on the negotiating table.

“The State of Israel will not allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. Get it into your heads that Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish people and will remain the capital of the Jewish people for all eternity,” she said.

Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli speaks during a vote on the so-called Regulation Bill on December 7, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The bill, an amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem, would make it harder for any government to divide the city by requiring 80 of the 120 MKs to support relinquishing any part of Jerusalem.

Currently, the Jerusalem Law, passed in 1980 and amended in 2000, states: “No authority that is stipulated in the law of the State of Israel or of the Jerusalem Municipality may be transferred either permanently or for an allotted period of time to a foreign body, whether political, governmental or to any other similar type of foreign body.”

With no provision in the Basic Law specifying how it can be amended, it currently can be overturned with a simple majority.

The bill must still pass three readings and at least two committee write-ups in the Knesset, an unlikely feat in the week left in the current Knesset session. It will likely not advance further until the Knesset returns from its fall recess in October.

The bill was advanced two weeks ago by Jewish Home lawmakers at the behest of Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) said the bill was “very important” to safeguard Jerusalem from future concessions.

“Although in this government the law isn’t necessary, we must protect Jerusalem also for the future,” he said.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, a former peace negotiator, railed against the bill in the Knesset plenum, calling it a “cynical bill that is preventing us from separating from the Palestinians.”

“This is not the Jerusalem bill, but rather the Kafr Aqab, Tzur Baher and Shuafat refugee camp bill,” said Livni, referring to Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. “These are villages with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that even Bennett as education minister doesn’t apply Israeli education there. It is not toward the municipal Jerusalem that the Jewish people pray, but rather the real Jerusalem.”

Jewish Home party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks in response to the UN vote against Israeli settlements, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, on December 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jewish Home leader Bennett has touted the bill as making the division of Jerusalem “impossible.”

A spokesman for the Jewish Home party said last month that the proposed legislation was intended to strengthen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position vis-a-vis the new administration of US President Donald Trump.

In May, hours before Trump arrived in Israel during his first major foray abroad as president, Netanyahu declared that Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holy sites was not up for negotiation and said the city will always be Israel’s capital.

Trump has expressed his desire to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, which he has described as the “ultimate deal.”

In recent months the United Nations cultural body UNESCO has passed a series of resolutions that diminish or deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and refer to Israel as an occupying power.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, but the move has not been recognized internationally and most countries refuse to recognize any part of the city as Israel’s capital, saying it was an issue that will need to be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Ministers push bill that could stymie East Jerusalem withdrawal

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday unanimously backed a bill that aims to make it more difficult to give up sections of Jerusalem in a future peace deal.

The basic law currently requires the consent of at least 61 MKs, a majority in the 120-member Knesset, for handing over sovereign control of any part of the capital to foreign governments or agencies, including the Palestinians.

The bill would raise that to an 80-MK minimum, or fully two-thirds of the Knesset, a threshold that likely makes it all but impossible for a future Israeli government to obtain the Knesset’s approval for withdrawing from Jerusalem.

The bill must still pass three readings and at least two committee write-ups in the Knesset, an unlikely feat in the two weeks left in the current Knesset session. It will likely not advance further until the Knesset returns from its fall recess in October.

The bill was advanced two weeks ago by Jewish Home lawmakers at the behest of Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett (R) shakes hands with Minister for Jerusalem Affiars Zeev Elkin after a vote on the so-called Regulation Bill, a controversial bill that seeks to legitimize illegal West Bank outposts, December 7, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“We will prevent a situation like in 2000 when [then-prime minister] Ehud Barak wanted to hand over the Temple Mount and two-thirds of the Old City to [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat” at the Camp David talks, Bennett said Sunday in a Twitter post.

In practice, it’s not clear that the new bill would increase the threshold of votes required to withdraw from parts of Jerusalem. While the bill demands 80 votes for withdrawal, it requires only 61 to amend the law itself – for example, by lowering the 80-vote threshold. That is, under the new bill, 61 MKs could vote to reduce the threshold from 80 to 61, then vote to withdraw from parts of Jerusalem.

The original bill, proposed by Jewish Home lawmakers in early July, required 80 votes for withdrawal and a similar 80-vote minimum for changing the law, but the latter stipulation was removed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked over concerns that it might be unconstitutional.

The bill was the subject of an angry dispute between the Jewish Home and Likud parties after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed off an earlier vote on it on July 2, saying its authors had failed to coordinate the bill with other coalition parties.

The delay led to a week-long negotiations period between Bennett and Likud’s Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin.

Bennett criticized Likud at the time, saying, “We are sorry narrow political considerations outweigh the need to prevent the division of Jerusalem. We will continue pushing this bill, and will do all we can to advance it in the upcoming days,” he said in a statement. “Jerusalem will be united by actions, not words.”

Likud, in turn, replied that “Jewish Home apparatchiks know well that Prime Minister Netanyahu supports the bill. He supported it back in 2007. They also know that by the coalition agreements, any amendments to a [constitutional] basic law require the agreement of all coalition partners. But instead of reaching for agreement and cooperation, Jewish Home prefers childish politicking. Likud is committed to Jerusalem forever remaining united under Israeli sovereignty, so we won’t get dragged into the kindergarten [fights] of Bennett and Shaked, but rather advance a bill together with all the coalition partners.”

In a video posted to his Facebook page, Bennett said the prime minister had hoped to “bury” the proposal but would not succeed.

“We will pass this law,” he promised.

Reality drags more East Jerusalem Arabs toward quiet Israeli citizenship

AFP — It’s a dilemma that many Palestinians from Jerusalem confront: Resign yourself to becoming an Israeli citizen or press ahead as a person without a state.

“I don’t really want to do it, but there is no other solution,” said a 28-year-old Palestinian lawyer from East Jerusalem who has applied for Israeli citizenship.

She applied in the summer of 2014 but is still waiting for a final answer.

The lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid potentially damaging her case, was given her first interview a year after applying.

She said it was “very difficult” to bring herself to apply, but concluded that having the passport “will definitely make my life far easier for travel and work.”

A Palestinian man walks past Israeli security forces standing guard at Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem's Old City on May 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Fifty years after Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, the more than 300,000 Palestinians in the city are in a unique situation.

They hold neither full Palestinian nor Israeli citizenships, instead having permanent residence granted to them by Israel and access to services.

They pay taxes for work and on property, but can’t vote in general elections, though they can participate in municipal elections.

Israel can withdraw their permanent residence if it can prove they live in the West Bank or elsewhere outside Jerusalem, meaning many feel their presence in the city and country of their birth is under threat.

As a result, recent years have seen increased numbers seeking to become full Israeli citizens, lawyers and non-governmental groups say.

Figures from the Jerusalem Legal Aid Center show 6,497 East Jerusalemites applied for citizenship between 2009 and 2016, of whom 3,349 have been granted it.

The Israeli passport of a Jerusalem-born Palestinian, Israeli Ruba Mueller, stamped as cancelled because she left Israel immediately after obtaining it 10 years ago, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Karin Laub)

Israel’s Interior Ministry had not responded to an AFP request for comment and figures.

Figures showed a sharp increase in citizenship applications for East Jerusalem residents beginning in 2006, though the numbers have somewhat fallen in recent years.

Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel does not clai sovereignty, are not entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship, but those from East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after the 1967 war, are.

The young lawyer recalled how getting visas to Western countries was a bureaucratic nightmare with permanent residence papers, but doing so with an Israeli passport would be straightforward.

“My sisters are out of the country and it is illogical to wait a long time to get European visas,” she said.

“Also, I need it for my work as a lawyer in Israel. My position will be stronger if I get the citizenship.”

She is expecting a decision in the next year, but knows taking Israeli citizenship will mean she cannot travel to many Arab countries which have no relations with the Jewish state.

‘Shame but no regret’

For Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, taking Israeli citizenship is a sensitive issue.

The Palestinian government sees East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel sees the whole city it captured in 1967 as its undivided capital.

For many Palestinians of East Jerusalem, taking Israeli citizenship is tantamount to accepting the Jewish state’s sovereignty in the city.

“We need to raise awareness of our Palestinian identity in Jerusalem and we should not try to legitimize the occupation,” anti-settlement activist Fakhri Abu Diab told AFP.

A Palestinian boy walks in East Jerusalem, May 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Ziad Haidami, a lawyer in Jerusalem, said he has had clients deciding to take the step for a variety of reasons.

“One wanted to become a police officer, another wanted to do long-term studies abroad,” he said.

All of them enter his office “like thieves” to avoid being seen, concerned that others will know they are seeking Israeli citizenship, he said.

“But Jerusalem Palestinians are increasingly making that choice because they are telling themselves that Israeli nationality will protect them and no Palestinian administration can do that in Jerusalem,” he said.

A general view of neighborhoods in Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem, close to the historic Old City, May 31, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

Mohammed, 27, who was granted citizenship two years ago, admits there is a stigma.

“Only my close circle knows I took Israeli citizenship,” he told AFP.

“But I don’t regret the step at all. My life became much easier and more comfortable,” he added, saying dealing with the government became more practical and he can travel faster.

Palestinians who do decide to apply, however, say they face major delays and point out that interviews are conducted in Hebrew only, despite the fact that Arabic is treated as a national language in Israel.

“The ministry of interior is still reviewing applications made in 2013 and 2014,” said lawyer, who represents a number of residents applying.

Israel’s interior ministry has previously denied claims of intentionally making the process difficult, saying the large number of applications and the work of processing them is time-consuming.

Israel said pushing for massive East Jerusalem expansion as Trump visits

The Housing Ministry is reportedly pushing forward with a massive plan that would add some 25,000 new homes to Jerusalem, including 15,000 units over the Green Line, in a move that may test the new US administration’s understandings with Israel over building in areas the Palestinians want for a state.

According to a Channel 2 report Thursday, the plan is set to be announced while US President Donald Trump is in the country in late May, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem and the unification of the once-divided city.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) is pushing the initiative in meetings with Jerusalem city officials.

According to the report, the plan will cost some NIS 4 billion ($1.1 billion).

Parts of the plan were reported by Channel 10 earlier in the week.

Galant’s office and the Jerusalem municipality could not be immediately contacted for confirmation.

Israeli officials confirmed on Thursday that Trump’s team is planning a visit on May 22. The White House told The Times of Israel that it is “exploring” the visit, but did not flesh out any further details. Jerusalem Day, which marks the capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, begins that evening.

Of the 15,000 units planned over the Green Line, the lion’s share would be in two new residential neighborhoods: Atarot in the north of the city and Givat Hamatos in the south.

The Atarot industrial zone, with Ramallah suburb Kafr Aqab seen in background. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Atarot, currently an industrial area near Ramallah that is home to a small abandoned airport, would see 10,000 homes built, marketed for ultra-Orthodox families.

In a statement, the municipality said it had not yet decided how to use the area of the old Atarot airport and was reviewing several options.

Another 2,000 would be built in Givat Hamatos, a mostly empty hill that critics say could cut East Jerusalem off from neighboring Bethlehem.

A mobile home in Givat Hamatos, seen in 2014. (Flash90)

A further 3,000 would be built in Ramat Shlomo, an existing ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the city’s north.

In 2010, a building plan for Ramat Shlomo was announced during a visit by US vice president Joe Biden, sparking a diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Washington.

In addition the plan includes 1,000 homes near Malha, 2,000 in Arnona and Ramat Rahel, and 7,000 in Ein Kerem and other parts of the western half of Jerusalem.

The proposal is slated to be one of the largest housing projects over the pre-1967 Green Line in recent years, a period when Israel faced significant international pressure to halt construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Both the Atarot and Givat Hamatos plans were frozen during the tenure of former US president Barak Obama, a harsh critic of Israel’s building policy in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Trump, seen as more conciliatory on the subject than his predecessor, has nevertheless said that he does not consider settlements “a good thing for peace” and has asked the Israelis to “hold back” on settlement building.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 18, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers it part of its undivided capital, does not regard building in the city as settlement activity and has said in maintains the right to build anywhere within municipal boundaries.

During recent discussions between Israeli and US officials over where Washington would tolerate building, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not “negotiate” on halting construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Israel okays 153 homes in East Jerusalem neighborhood Gilo

Israeli officials on Thursday gave final approval to build 153 housing units in East Jerusalem, two days after approving construction for some 2,500 homes in the West Bank, most in existing settlement blocs Israel hopes to keep in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman told AFP the approvals by a city planning committee for homes in the neighborhood of Gilo were among those held up due to US pressure during Barack Obama’s presidential term.

On Sunday, a Jerusalem planning committee approved the construction of 566 housing units in East Jerusalem, in the neighborhoods of Ramot, Ramat Shlomo and Pisgat Ze’ev, on the heels of a phone conversation earlier that day between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, in which the two discussed their plans for the region.

The almost week-old Trump administration has so far remained silent on Israel’s construction plans — announcements that likely would have earned Israel a sharp rebuke from the previous administration. Germany and, to Israel’s surprise, Australia issued statements condemning the announcement Sunday. A UN Security Council meeting over the plans on Wednesday yielded no decision.

Following Trump’s inauguration last Friday, Turgeman spoke of plans for some 11,000 homes in process for annexed East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.

“I’m going to deliver permits for thousands of homes in Jerusalem in the coming months,” Turgeman said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at the Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Most of the 2,500 housing units approved on Tuesday in the West Bank will be built in the large settlement areas, notably in the city of Ariel and in Givat Ze’ev, a settlement north of Jerusalem. But some will also go up in settlements outside the larger blocs, due to prior agreements and court decisions, officials indicated.

“We’re building — and will continue to build,” Netanyahu said Tuesday, following the approval.

Palestinians quickly condemned the announcement, calling it “land theft and colonialism.” They also denounced it as an explicit violation of the recent anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations.

“Such a deliberate escalation of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise constitutes a war crime and the flagrant violation of international law and conventions, in particular UN Security Council resolution 2334,” said PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi, referring to an anti-settlements UN decision passed last month.

David Friedman, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for ambassador to Israel. (Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP via AP)

Trump is viewed as being more favorable to Israeli settlement policies than Obama, as he has repeatedly declared that he will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem despite the city’s disputed status.

He also nominated as ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who is the head of American Friends of Bet El Institutions — a group that raises funds for the West Bank settlement of Beit El’s seminary, a news organization affiliated with the settler movement and other activities in the settlement.

Both Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who Trump appointed as a senior adviser and said will be his point-man on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, have reportedly donated to Friedman’s organization.

In wake of UN measure, hundreds of East Jerusalem homes set to be okayed (NOT GOOD!!!!)

The Jerusalem municipality will likely approve the construction of hundreds of homes in East Jerusalem this week, days after the United Nations Security Council resolution angered Israel by labeling construction there as a “flagrant violation under international law.”

During the meeting, the Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee is expected to give the green light to the construction of 618 housing units, of which 140 are in Pisgat Zeev, 262 in Ramat Shlomo and 216 in Ramot, according to a report in the Haaretz daily.

The meeting to approve the construction of the homes was reportedly scheduled prior to Friday evening’s passage of UNSC Resolution 2334, which labeled all construction over the Green Line — land beyond the 1949 armistice line that Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War — as illegal, including in Jerusalem.

Despite Jerusalem being Israel’s capital city, construction in the city’s east has long been condemned by the international community, which does not recognize Israel’s annexation of that half of the city. Israel says the city is united and maintains it has full rights to build anywhere in the capital.

The Jerusalem District Zoning Committee is also scheduled to meet on Wednesday, during which it will deliberate the construction of 5,600 homes in East Jerusalem, including 2,600 housing units in Gilo, 2,600 in Givat Hamatos and 400 in Ramot, Israel Hayom reported.

View of caravans in Givat Hamatos neighborhood of Jerusalem on July 05, 2016. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

Construction in Givat Hamatos, a sparsely settled hillside near Jerusalem’s southern edge, has failed to get off the ground because of fierce international opposition, with critics saying the addition of Israeli homes there would cut off the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa from nearby Palestinian areas of the West Bank, making it more difficult to divide portions of East Jerusalem from the rest of the city.

Jerusalem municipal officials view the election of US President-elect Donald Trump as an opportunity to launch a building spree in East Jerusalem, which has been much lower in recent years due to pressure from the Obama administration.

Ir Amim, a Jerusalem-based NGO that monitors Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, wrote on Twitter on Monday that in the past month and a half over 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem have been approved, more than double the number approved last year.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (left) with Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman in Jerusalem. September 1, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who also chairs the Jerusalem District Zoning Committee, told Israel Hayom on Sunday that the recent UN resolution will have no effect on Israeli building plans in East Jerusalem.

“We remain unfazed by the UN vote, or by any other entity that tries to dictate what we do in Jerusalem,” he said, while adding that “I hope the Israeli government and the new US administration will support us, so we can make up for the lack [of construction] during the eight years of the Obama administration.”

Dozens of new homes said set to be approved in East Jerusalem


The Jerusalem city council will next week reportedly approve plans for the construction of dozens of homes in Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood that sits over the Green Line on land captured in the 1967 war.

The new construction, on territory regarded by Israel as part of its capital city but widely seen internationally as disputed land, is to be green-lighted by the city’s planning committee after years of delay, Israel’s Channel 2 said.

It added that the move would likely infuriate the US administration, which considers building in such areas to constitute settlement expansion.

The TV report, which was not confirmed by the municipality, also quoted an unnamed senior source in the municipality claiming that numerous other plans for building in East Jerusalem neighborhoods were now being “taken out of the freezer” and would be approved in the next few months, as the Obama administration nears the end of its term. Projects “big and small” will be approved, the source was quoted as saying, and “never mind the political pressure.”

The Gilo construction consists of three buildings containing “dozens of apartments,” the TV report said. It said the construction contract has been awarded to a company that builds homes for ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The Obama administration routinely and bitterly criticizes the Netanyahu government for building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, since it considers such construction to undermine efforts for a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Hailing the new US-Israel military aid package on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said the unprecedented $38-billion, 10-year agreement would help Israel to defend itself, but stressed that “the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”

Dan Shapiro, the US Ambassador to Israel, told Channel 2 Thursday night that Obama will “do everything he can” in his final months in power to ensure that the two-state solution remains viable.

Shapiro also said there was “no decision” yet on whether Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would meet in the coming weeks. Netanyahu flies to the UN General Assembly next week.

Last week, Washington fumed publicly at comments made by Netanyahu in a video in which he accused the Palestinians of advocating ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population in the West Bank.

US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters last Friday that, the administration is “engaging in direct conversations with the Israeli government” about the video.

“We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful,” Trudeau said.

She said Israel expansion of settlements raises “real questions about Israel’s long-term intentions in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu on Friday decried what he said was the world’s silence on the issue.

Speaking in English in a video message posted on his Facebook page, Netanyahu asked whether people in other parts of the world would accept such demands in their own countries.

It’s “outrageous that the world doesn’t find it outrageous,” Netanyahu said, urging viewers to ask themselves whether they would accept “a territory without Jews, without Hispanics, without blacks” in their nation.

“Since when is bigotry a foundation for peace?” he asked.

“At this moment, Jewish schoolchildren in Judea [and] Samaria are playing in sandboxes with their friends,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical Hebrew name. “Does their presence make peace impossible? I don’t think so.”

Controversial Jewish building in East Jerusalem gets green light

The Jerusalem municipality on Wednesday approved the construction of a three-story residential building for Jews in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, following attempts by government officials to stymie the project over fears of angry reactions.

The city’s Planning and Building Committee made the decision following a two-week delay on the ruling, due to a heated debate on the issue between councilors.

The plot, which the state sold to settlers in 2005 via the Justice Ministry’s custodian general, is located in the Batan Al-Hawa area of Silwan opposite the seven-story Beit Yonatan. Beit Yonatan was built without permits in 2002, and 11 Jewish families moved in two years later.

Despite orders by the courts and by then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein to evacuate and seal the building, 10 families still live there, according to the Haaretz newspaper. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has supported the Jewish residents’ right to inhabit the building.

Border police protect dozens of Jews as they move into sites in Silwan, East Jerusalem, on September 30, 2014. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Eldad Rabinowicz, the lawyer who submitted the planning request on behalf of a company named Maliach 73, on Wednesday praised the decision, Haaretz reported.

“We are pleased that the municipality granted permission for a building permit on Jewish lands in Silwan. This is an action of historical justice for the settling of the land that began since the first [Jewish] immigration to Israel,” he said.

In a statement, the municipality vowed to “continue to build in all neighborhoods” of the city.

The approval for the building comes during the month-long Muslim festival of Ramadan, and appears to go against efforts to calm tensions that have fueled months of Palestinian attacks, many of them in Jerusalem. Critics claim the land was sold at an artificially low price, and without a proper tender process, to the Ateret Cohanim organization.

Organizations such as Ateret Cohanim are dedicated to solidifying a Jewish presence in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, in particular in neighborhoods such as Silwan.

A building in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan that was taken over by Jews, who claim that it originally belonged to Jewish Yemenite immigrants (Peace Now)

The anti-settlement Peace Now organization said in an earlier statement that the land in the area was sold to Ateret Cohanim by the custodian general without any tender, together with three additional parcels in the neighborhood. The pretext for selling the land was the fact that the group already owned two other parcels in Batan Al-Hawa that the custodian general released to it in September 2002.

“While Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Defense Minister Liberman just backed the two-state solution, on the ground, they are supporting actions that are making a future compromise much more difficult,” the statement said. “By approving the construction on the eve of Ramadan, Netanyahu and Liberman risk igniting the region and compromising Israelis’ security for the benefit of extreme settlers.”

Silwan has seen rising tensions in recent years as dozens of Jews have moved into homes in the mostly Arab neighborhood.

Before the Arab riots of 1938, Silwan — then known as Harat al-Yaman — was mainly Jewish. The riots forced the Jews to leave.

East Jerusalem Hamas cell ‘planned to kill Netanyahu’

The Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office filed an indictment with the city’s district court on Friday against two Arab Israeli residents of East Jerusalem who allegedly plotted to kill Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event at the capital.

According to the indictment, Hazem Ziad Amran Sandouqa, a 22-year-old resident of Jerusalem’s Old City, and Fahdi Daoud Muhammad Abu Qaian, a 19-year-old Bedouin Israeli from the Negev, planned, along with Hamas activist Ahmad Jamal Mousa Azzam, 24, to plant explosives in the Jerusalem Payis Arena at a time when Netanyahu would be scheduled to speak at the site, Ynet reported.

The indictment said the three planned to place the device beneath the stage at the multi-purpose sports arena in Malha on a future occasion at which Netanyahu was to appear, but never set a final date for the operation.

The indictment added that the Hamas activist rented an apartment in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis and purchased explosive materials both personally as well as through the help of Sandouqa, Channel 2 reported.

Azzam, from Qalqilya in the West Bank, was arrested last month after the Shin Bet uncovered a large Hamas terror cell that planned to carry out suicide bombings and other terror attacks in Israel. The Shin Bet, alongside the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police, arrested 25 Hamas operatives, the majority of them students of the al-Quds University in Abu Dis, who, they suspect, were preparing to attack Israeli targets. In a statement, the agency said the cell was controlled by the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.

Sandouqa, the indictment added, obtained chemicals weighing dozens of kilograms in order to assemble explosive devices, and transferred the matériel to Azzam.

The central figures arrested by the Shin Bet under the suspicion that they were planning to carry out suicide bombings and other terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank. (Courtesy)

Abu Qaian, who was branded in the indictment as a supporter of the Islamic State terrorist group, was accused of planning to transfer weapons to Israel and the West Bank in order to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians.

The two men, along with Azzam, further planned to carry out a large attack in Jerusalem earlier this month, the indictment said.

The indictment also noted that Azzam had operated a makeshift laboratory in Abu Dis, which was being used to create the explosives necessary for bombing attacks.

Azzam was recruited by Hamas operatives from the Gaza Strip in order to set up a terror cell in the West Bank. The 24-year-old remained in constant contact with his controllers in the Strip, the Shin Bet said last month following his arrest.

Hamas taught Azzam, a student from al-Quds University in Abu Dis — which has campuses in East Jerusalem and el-Bireh — how to create explosive belts and vests, as well as improvised explosive devices that could be used against both civilians and security forces.

Once he became a member of Hamas, Azzam recruited other students from his university who assisted him in every aspect of the plot, from renting apartments to use as laboratories to purchasing the chemicals and materials necessary to create the explosives, as well as volunteering to act as suicide bombers in the planned attacks, according to the Shin Bet.

During Abu Qaian’s interrogation, he revealed to officers that he had accepted Azzam’s request in October 2015 to either carry out a suicide bombing with an explosive vest, or drive a car packed with explosives into some Israeli target.

In addition to the Abu Dis terror cell, the Shin Bet also busted a Bethlehem-based group that was also associated with Azzam. Some of its members also came from al-Quds University in Abu Dis, and were recruited in order to serve as suicide bombers, the agency said.

Issa Nasser Issa Shoka, a 19-year-old student at al-Quds University in Abu Dis, agreed to carry out a suicide bombing and also to help Azzam transfer money between the West Bank and Gaza.

Shoka acted as one of the leaders of the Bethlehem cell, recruiting Muhammad Waleed Ahmad Sarhkhan, 20, as well as Muhammad Na’im Issa Ali, 19, to carry out a suicide bombing and other attacks, the Shin Bet said.

“The planned wave of terror attacks proves that Hamas, led by its military wing, has removed itself from the terrible distress of the population of the [Gaza] Strip,” the agency added.

Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.