A NEW ERA OF SETTLEMENT EXPANSION IN JERUSALEM AND ENVIRONS BEGINS

Settlement Report Vol. 17 No. 2 March – April 2007

Israel is stepping up its effort to enclose Jerusalem with a ring of barriers and settlements designed to sever Palestinian East Jerusalem from the West Bank. Recent announcements of significant settlement expansion in the areas in and around Neve Ya’acov and the former site of the airport at Atarot signify a major push by Israel to link East Jerusalem area settlements on both sides of the separation barrier, to establish an unbroken belt of settlement along East Jerusalem’s northern perimeter, and perhaps of most significance, to tie Road 60 settlements–from Ma’ale Adumim north to Shilo and Eli–to the Tel Aviv metropolis and the coastal plain.

Within the next two months, ground may be broken for a just approved project of 1,200 units–accommodating a population of 7,000–on land under the jurisdiction of the West Bank settlement of Giva Binyamin/ Adam. The planned expansion is located west of the separation barrier while the settlement itself sits to its east (see inset map and map on page 3). No plan exists to connect the two areas across the barrier. Rather, the new development will be linked with the East Jerusalem settlement of Neve Ya’acov.

In addition, a new settlement of 11,000 to 13,000 units–enough to house more than 60,000 people–is in the initial planning stages for the site of the shuttered Atarot airport, abutting the separation barrier and the Qalandiya checkpoint. The idea has yet to be vetted by all relevant planning authorities, so construction is not imminent. If approved, however, the project will be the largest settlement undertaking in East Jerusalem since June 1967.

Like the nearby West Bank settlement of Kochav Ya’acov, east of the barrier, the Atarot settlement would be aimed at the exploding population of large ultra Orthodox families in search of affordable housing. Settlements that target this market are already among the largest and fastest growing communities in the West Bank.

A tunnel linking Road 443–a main artery west to the coastal plain–and Route 60–the main West Bank settlement artery–is a key element of the Atarot plan, providing settlers residing east of the separation barrier fast transport linkage to the Israeli coast. Completion of this connection would further signify Israel’s intention to remain permanently in settlements in the heart of the West Bank.

Kochav Ya’acov, also know as Tel Zion, is an exploding community closing in on the Palestinian area of Kufr Aqab just to its west. Only a few hundred meters separate the outermost houses of the two locales. Kufr Aqab, although part of annexed East Jerusalem, is on the “Palestinian” side of the separation barrier, requiring residents to pass through checkpoints in order to gain entry to the city center.

Kufr Aqab is growing, with multi story apartment buildings, almost all constructed without municipal permits, choking the once quiet village. The municipality has constructed new schools and health services, in part to maintain a continuing presence in the area despite Kufr Aqab’s physical separation from the city.

Kufr Aqab residents hope that the new road connecting the yet to be approved Atarot settlement to Kochav Ya’acov and Route 60 will include an access road for the village, mitigating the impact of their location north of the separation barrier and linking them once again with Jerusalem via a road network that Israel is unlikely to surrender in any political arrangement, thereby assuring their now threatened status as residents of the city.

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