The Jerusalem municipality is slated to authorized on Monday the "King's Garden" plan, in which 22 houses in east Jerusalem's al-Bustan neighborhood will be demolished. The plan, which has made waves throughout the world, has caused various bodies in the city council to bare their teeth as the Right demands that an even harsher plan against Arab illegal building be implemented, while Meretz and the Left have announced their intentions of resigning from the city government.
In the local planning and building board meeting in the capital, a majority supports the plan following Mayor Barkat's call for coalition discipline. There are currently 88 houses in the neighborhood that were built without a building permit and are at the center of the most sensitive dispute in Jerusalem.
Barkat's plan stipulates that 66 of these buildings will receive building permits retroactively, while the rest will be evacuated and the demolished. The residents evacuated from these buildings will receive permission to rebuild up to four-stories on the eastern side of the neighborhood at their own expense.
Leftist and human rights groups claim that the residents will not actually be able to build new houses on the site because requirements have been stipulated that cannot be met, such as parking in the building, which cannot be implemented there.
Al-Bustan becoming King's Garden? (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
Three months ago, a plan to build an archeological park on the site was torpedoed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who claimed, "Self-interested parties would like to provoke quarrel and strife and present a warped picture of Jerusalem to Israel and the world."
Authorization of the plan on Monday will in essence be a recommendation to regional planning and building board, which is the body that will determine whether the plan is put up for public response or not. It remains unclear if and when the plan will be brought to discussion given the sensitive political situation involved.
The archeological park, which is planned under a Jewish-religious glint, has outraged local Arab residents and has attracted attention worldwide.
About two months ago, al-Bustan residents issued an alternative building plan for the neighborhood, but it was not even weighed as an option in the municipality.
"The demolition of houses and the threat to send us and our families out on the street are the worst things anyone can do to us. I ask the mayor to be logical and see to our needs, so that the municipality will not be our enemy, but will help us and provide us with service. There is a sense that we have been marked as a target and an operation that must be finished without taking into consideration the circumstances or the consequences," said Abu-Dihab, an al-Bustan resident.
Al-Bustan. Dangerous unilateralism (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
The municipal Meretz faction has already announced that it will not cooperate with Barkat's call for coalition discipline in authorizing the plan. Furthermore, faction representatives told Ynet that they would resign from the coalition in protest over the move.
"This is a red line for us. Any program that includes any demolition of houses in east Jerusalem is something that I cannot live with. Therefore, we will fight the mayor from the opposition with all the strength we have," said Meretz Council member Meir Margalit.
Ir Amim organization said, "It is unfortunate that the mayor is still refusing to internalize the danger in promoting unilateral moves in volatile regions in Jerusalem, not to mention the fact that most of the 'benefits' Mr. Barkat has offered in his plan to the Palestinian residents are not implementable in actuality. It is advisable that the mayor enter into honest and real dialogue with the residents with the objective of developing the region for the benefit of the residents, and not to promote clearly political agendas."
Criticism of the plan is also being heard from the rightist side of the political map. Likud faction chairman in the municipality Attorney Elisha Peleg claimed, "The King's Garden is the rock of our existence. Arab building there damages the unity of Jerusalem. This is damage that will be an eternal disgrace, a disregard for the rule of law and a capitulation to Palestinian threats of riots."
"Just like they found a budget for tens of thousands of policemen at the haredi protests last week, budget must be found for 1,000 policemen to clean the King's Garden of all illegal building there, just like the Hasmoneans came and purified the Temple," he continued.
Peleg claimed that passing the plan will be an award for lawbreakers. "Neither the Turks, the British, nor the Jordanians did not allow any 'hut' to be built on this area. Only in the 90s was Silwan connected to the sewage system in Jerusalem, and then people started building on the national park, on roads, parks, and land that doesn't belong to them. A large portion are even illegal aliens here in the city, and aren't residents of Jerusalem."
The Jerusalem municipality reported in response: "There are three existing alternatives to King's Garden. The first possibility is to evacuate the entire area and demolish all 88 illegal houses built here in accordance with today's existing city plans and the demolition orders issued by the court. The second possibility is a sweeping authorization of all the illegal building offenses on the site.
"The municipality chose a third option that balances various needs by which an unprecedented possibility be granted to authorize 75% of the houses and a legal option be granted to build in a complex for the remaining 22 houses with proper infrastructure."