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Building (or not) in A-Sawarcha

July 17, 2011

There was a long article in the weekend edition of Kol Ha ir (Hebrew, not online) about the attempt to build a large Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem (July 15th, pages 57-62).

The area under discussion is a mostly empty area to the south-east of the Old City (and also not far from Silwan, one of the main flashpoints these days). It is mostly bare hillside, a bit steep to build on but not impossible, and the valley of Kidron between them, where there are some cultivated fields which, I presume, will make way for the construction. At the eastern edge of the area runs the security barrier. Apparently most of the land is owned by local Arabs – no-one seems to be claiming otherwise – and the municipality has been in negotiations with the local community leaders (mukhtars and others) to reach and agreed plan of construction.

Over the past decades tens of thousands of homes have been built in the eastern part of town, rarely in conformity with zoning regulations or municipal permits; no-one ever pays construction taxes, and so the municipality hasn’t invested in infrastructures or municipal services. This time the municipality wants to do it right: the construction plans will be coordinated with adaptations to the zoning laws; the construction companies will be all the required taxes and fees; the municipality will authorize the construction plans and ensure they include strips of land for roads, and others for parks and communal structures, along with commercial areas, and will use the funds collected to lay water and sewage pipes, electricity and communication wires, pave real roads. All the things that automatically happen in the western part of town, but rarely happen in the east.

The construction itself will be done by private companies; some 2,500 housing units are planned.

So far so good. Predictably, the right-wing parts of the municipal coalition are all agog. Their spokesmen all swear that they are in favor of construction for the Arab populace, but. Not now, not here, not so much, not this-that-and-the-other. The left is very supportive of the plan. The haredi, who make a bg chunk of the council, seem not to have an opnion, or at least none of their representatives are cited in the article, and given their centrality to the way the city is run, I assume this means they’ve got no reason to offer their opinions on record. I expect they don’t have one, so long as their own constituents are getting their own pork.

Ah, sorry about that.

The municipality, reflecting the strident positions of Nir Barkat, is pushing for the plan. his own party is more right-wing than left-wing. Likud, Kadima and Labor all refrained from running in the municipal elections, which is an interesting phenomenon, but the mayor’s list has all sorts of Likud types on it, including Kobi Kachlon, the deputy mayor in charge of this whole project; Kachlon’s brother, Moshe, is an important cabinet member from the Likud. So a plausible case could be made that the plan is being promoted by Likudniks in the face of the ire of the hard-right.

Will it happen? Can Barkat’s coalition get the plan through the relevant planning committees, some of which are national-level, not municipal? I don’t know. He certainly seems to be trying.

The one plausible objection coming from those trying to block the plan is that it must be tied to similar plans to build for Jews – in Gilo, say, or elsewhere. You can’t expect the municipality to authorize large-scale construction for Arabs, while forbidding it for Jews. So we’ll watch and see how this all unfolds.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Nycerbarb permalink
    July 18, 2011 7:16 am

    “so long as their own constituents are getting their own pork.”

    BG. You couldn’t resist that one, huh?

    Perhaps shmaltz or shmear?


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