VOICES FROM JERUSALEM: What Is Behind Jerusalem's First Master Plan Since 1967?

Today, 42 years since the annexation of East Jerusalem, it seems that the future of Palestinian Jerusalemites is gloomier than ever, and that their pathways of existence are narrowing.
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A special report by Sami Ershied.Jerusalem's first city plan since 1967 was slated to be deposited for public review but is currently being held up by MK Eli Yishai, purportedly because it allocates too much housing to the city's Palestinian population. The plan, "Jerusalem 2020," calls for investment in affordable housing units, expansion of the tourism industry, increased job training and employment opportunities, and new housing for Arab residents. In many respects, Jerusalem 2020 is long overdue.

At its core, however, this plan is Israel's attempt to strengthen its hold on the West Bank lands that were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, and to keep them under exclusive Israeli control. Beyond the problematic legal and political ramifications of fortifying the internationally unacceptable inflated borders of Israeli municipal Jerusalem, the plan serves to reinforce the intolerable situation in which Palestinian residents have been mired since 1967. The plan hinges on -- and realizes -- the assumption that the heart of the city that was conquered in 1967, the Old City and the historic basin surrounding it, will belong to Israel forevermore.

The East Jerusalem presented in the plan will consist of whatever shreds of Palestinian population centers will remain after most Palestinian lands have been expropriated, and after the possibilities for Palestinian urban jurisdiction have been thwarted. The plan seeks to perpetuate the process begun over 42 years ago, in which Palestinian Jerusalemites live within delimited and disconnected population centers (see Ir Amim's 2009 Jerusalem demographic map). In spite of the plan's promise to offer some housing solutions for Jerusalem's Palestinian residents, the plan also proposes turning up the heat on existing unlicensed Palestinian construction. What this looks like in practice is the demolition of hundreds of Palestinian buildings, if not more. It has yet to be seen how today's report of Jerusalem Mayor Barkat's anticipated plan to halt 70% of existing demolition orders will impact this plan.

270,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, and approximately one-third of them live in apartments that were built after 1967, and which lack building permits. Nearly 20,000 apartments fall into this category. Since 1967, the Jerusalem Municipality has granted only 4000 building permits to Palestinians. Over the years, "Hameuhedet," the Jerusalem City Counsel, has left Palestinian residents of Jerusalem without the infrastructure and planning to meet their basic needs. The construction of 13,000 new housing units for Palestinians is a step in the right direction, but the proposed timeline for construction indicates that the municipality's priorities lie elsewhere. The goal, according to the plan, is for construction on 70% of the units to be started by the year -- wait for it -- 2030. And that, in neighborhoods far from the Old City and the historic basin.

Today there is consensus that the last 42 years of city planning and land policy in East Jerusalem have been directed toward achieving two interlinked goals: (1) maximalist control of land for the purpose of building exclusively Jewish neighborhoods on lands conquered and annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, and (2) strengthening Israeli control on the ground. In this way, approximately 25,000 of the 70,000 dunams that were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967 have been expropriated from Palestinian ownership for what has been called "public use." But when scant land is transferred to governmental hands, and then sold for Jewish development, it becomes clear that the intended general public is the Jewish general public. As of 2001, nearly 50,000 housing units were built for Jewish Jerusalemites, and none for the city's Arab residents. A further consequence of this land transfer policy is the deterioration of the Palestinians' capacity for urban and economic development within the small clusters they are left with, after the expropriations and subsequent construction of road and byway networks.

In 1967, the Israeli government decided to freeze all planning procedures and land registration processes in East Jerusalem. This decision took root on lands that had already been expropriated and upon which new Jewish neighborhoods were starting to be built. Through this process, these lands were registered in the name of the State of Israel and were administered by the Israel Lands Administration, which subsequently leased them to the owners of the apartments that would be built on them. The vast majority of lands that do remain in Palestinians' hands are not registered in the Lands Registry. The lack of proper registration negatively impacts the trade value of these lands, and hurts owners' capacity to use them as a financial resource. Furthermore, in most instances, Palestinians' requests for building permits are rejected even in places where building is permitted.

In practice, one 42-year-old decision of the Israeli government has frozen the legal status of Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem while modern Jerusalem has grown up all around -- and sometimes atop -- them. An additional spate of Israeli government and Jerusalem municipality decisions has held back Palestinian Jerusalemites in every possible way. This is what happened in the realm of planning when the Jerusalem Municipality failed to adopt the Jordanian outline plan for Jerusalem, and subsequently failed to enact a new plan of its own. To this day, entire East Jerusalem neighborhoods lack planning schemes, including Anata and Kufr Aqub, among others. Even in neighborhoods that are covered by plans, wide swaths of the planning and development which were granted permits (albeit decades late) were required to scale back, and thus disallow residential development. It follows that in the arenas of infrastructure, education, health, and public institutions, much of what existed in 1967 was destroyed, and little of significance has been provided in its place.

Today, 42 years since the annexation of East Jerusalem, it seems that the future of Palestinian Jerusalemites is gloomier than ever, and that their pathways of existence are narrowing. Jerusalem 2020 utilizes seemingly professional tools to respond to the growing needs of an urban populace, but the plan is ultimately designed to serve a political purpose that marginalizes one of the populations most in need of a master plan. As long as Jerusalem sits at the heart of a historical conflict it seems that there is no magical solution based on master plans, creative as they may be. A true solution for Jerusalem will be bound with political negotiations and agreements between the two nations and three religions which call the city home.

Sami Ershied is a Palestinian lawyer from Jerusalem who specializes in land use and planning.

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