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Sunday, March 22, 2009

U.S. 'furious' over Jerusalem zoning laws?

Take this with a grain of salt because it comes from Haaretz, Israel's Hebrew Palestinian daily. Haaretz reports this morning that the Obama administration is 'furious' with Israel (the second time in twelve hours I have seen that word used - over two different issues) over demolition orders given for 'Palestinian' homes that were built in a site designated as a national archeological park just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem (Haaretz only tells you that the homes are in Jerusalem, but I am telling you where they are).

The Americans are supposedly claiming that an Israeli cabinet decision from April 2003 committed the government not to take 'punitive actions' like home demolitions against the 'Palestinians.' I'm guessing that cabinet decision was the 'road map.' Israel should have declared the 'road map' dead long ago, because it never received a response to its fourteen reservations to the 'road map' and because the 'Palestinians' have never fulfilled a single condition it imposed on them. Unfortunately, with President Hopenchange now in power in Washington, it's unlikely that Israel would dare to take such a step. Another opportunity has been lost.

'Senior foreign ministry officials' are arguing that the demolitions are not punitive, but are simply a reflection of the City of Jerusalem doing what every other city in the world does (or ought to do): Enforcing its building code. The fact is that there are more demolitions in the Jewish sector than in the Arab sector of the city. I know of one within 100 meters of my home (someone tried to build onto the roof above their apartment without a permit; the city came and demolished it and charged them NIS 50,000 - about $15,000 at the time - for demolition expenses), and there is someone on my block who built an additional room into his own backyard(!) and the city showed up three days after it was done with a demolition order. They're still negotiating over getting a permit retroactively for that one (far from a foregone conclusion).

Meanwhile, in the City of David (Silwan in Arabic), Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is hoping to reach a compromise with the Arabs who built illegally.
The head of Silwan's residential committee, Fachri Abu-Diab said this week that city councilor Yakir Segev, who holds the municipality's east Jerusalem portfolio, had offered the residents in question alternative land in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina or another city area.

The informal city proposal was tentatively rejected in the meeting, he said.

"We are talking about a small group who built homes on a park in an open area, where it is very fair to assume that [in the end] there will not be residential housing," Barkat said.

While he praised the dialogue with Silwan residents, the new Jerusalem mayor insisted that the issue of house demolitions in the city was about law and order, and not about politics.

"The two issues need to be decoupled," he said. "I would like to see what [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg would say about illegal building in Central Park. Would he give up Central Park because there is illegal building there?"

The long-running dispute centers on a small section of Silwan, adjacent to the prominent archaeological park at the City of David known to Israelis as the King's Valley and to Arabs as al-Bustan.

A years-old municipal plan to demolish 88 illegal Arab homes in the area was frozen in 2005 as a result of international protests.

The issue came to the fore again earlier this month, on the eve of the first visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after a municipal committee rejected a long-running legal petition by local Arab residents in the area to keep their homes.

About 1,500 people live in the 88 homes in question, local residents say.

Although only a couple of homes in the area currently face imminent demolition, according to official city documentation, fallacious reports came out after the recent municipal committee ruling, claiming that Israel was on the verge of razing dozens of the homes. This set off US criticism and a virtual public relations fiasco for Barkat during the Clinton visit.

Clinton called Israel's demolition of the illegally built Palestinian homes unhelpful, and in violation of the US-backed peace plan.

Barkat called the top US diplomat misinformed.

"The international and Arabic press were not interested in the facts," Barkat said. "The Palestinians successfully spun the story in this round, but the facts are stronger than spin."


According to city figures, 32 homes have been demolished in Jerusalem since the beginning of the year, including 18 in east Jerusalem.

The figures are similar to demolitions over the last five years during the tenure of former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, when between 100-130 illegal homes were razed each year.

Earlier this week, Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Pepe Alalo of Meretz, which opposes any Jewish construction in east Jerusalem, conceded during a tour of the site by party officials that there was a tremendous amount of disinformation about the house demolitions in Silwan, and urged local residents to work with the city to reach a solution to the issue.
Don't hold your breath waiting for those negotiations to succeed.

For much more on the demolition of illegally built homes in Jerusalem, please go here.


At 3:43 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3:45 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel should raise the issue of demolitions in Washington DC and see if the US government likes being told what to do in its own capital. The Israeli government doesn't have to sit there and take it along with the arrogance of American interference in its internal affairs. After all, the US has now made THAT a legitimate subject of inquiry and it should be a two-way street.


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