World opposes Israel building new Arab homes in Jerusalem

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 |  Israel Today Staff

The international community demonstrated this week that it is not only the construction of Jewish homes in Jerusalem that it opposes, but rather any sovereign action at all by Israel in the city, including projects to benefit the capital's Arab residents.

Many Arab residents of Jerusalem complain that they are neglected by the municipality when it comes to neighborhood upkeep and investment. So Mayor Nir Barkat this week had planned to officially announce a new project for the Silwan neighborhood on the southern edge of the Old City.

Silwan, known to Jews as the City of David, is an impoverished, mostly Arab neighborhood. In order to reclaim the area's historic glory, Barkat had wanted to tear down one of its poorer neighborhoods and construct a new park with luxury apartment buildings surrounding it. The current residents of the area were to be temporarily housed elsewhere and moved back into the new apartments upon their completion.

But the Palestinian Authority took the plan as an opportunity to attack Israel, completely ignoring the fact that its primary aim was to benefit the local Arab residents.

"There is no way the Palestinians can accept the demolishing of houses in Jerusalem and the continuation of building settlements for the Jewish settlers," Palestinian cabinet minister Mohammed Ishtayeh told reporters on Tuesday.

In typical fashion, the UN took the side of the Palestinians, and demanded that Israel halt Barkat's "concerning" project.

"We’re trying to reduce tensions at the current time, not exacerbate them. Whatever the intentions behind such a project, Israel needs to understand that demolishing Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem demolishes confidence among Palestinians and frankly, also internationally," read a statement released by the UN Special Coordinator's Office for the Mideast Peace Process.

The pressure resulted in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoning Barkat on Tuesday to request that he postpone the official launch of the project. The call came just hours before the mayor had scheduled to hold a press conference to announce the project.

The Obama Administration expressed relief later in the day that Barkat had halted what it, too, for some reason viewed as a dangerous initiative.

Barkat told reporters that he is confident the Arab residents of Silwan will all sign on the project, giving him the backing he needs to finally rehabilitate this history-rich section of Jerusalem.

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