The European Union on Wednesday declared that the Jerusalem Municipality's plan to demolish 22 Arab homes built illegally on state-owned land is a serious obstacle to peace.
Catherine Ashton, chief of EU foreign affairs, reminded Israel in remarks to reporters that Europe has never recognized Israel's sovereignty over the eastern half of Jerusalem, and therefore considers it illegal for Israel to enforce its laws there.
Ashton was referring to municipal plans for the neighborhood of Silwan, which lies just south of Jerusalem's Old City. Silwan is today an Arab-dominated neighborhood. But in ancient times it comprised the entirety of Jerusalem, and is known to Jews as the "City of David." Up until the Arab massacres of the 1920s and 1930s, there was a sizable Jewish community in Silwan.
The southern part of Silwan is known as King's Garden. During Ottoman and later British rule of Jerusalem, King's Garden was state-owned land that was purposely preserved as a green area. Over the past decade, however, local Arabs have taken over the area and illegally constructed some 90 homes.
The Jerusalem Municipality has agreed to retroactively approve two-thirds of the illegal homes, but insists the rest of the area must revert to its original state - a public green area that will include an archeological park.
Ashton was adamant that the plan is "illegal under international law" and "threatens to make the two-state solution impossible."
Her understanding of international law appeared to be flawed. The entirety of Jerusalem was legally deeded to a future Jewish state when the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, ratified the British Mandate for Palestine in 1922. That was the last legally-binding international decision produced regarding control of Jerusalem.
The 1947 UN Partition Plan that would have divided control of Jerusalem and the rest of Israel never made it beyond being a General Assembly recommendation filed under Chapter VI of the UN Charter. As such, Israeli control of eastern Jerusalem can be disputed, but not characterized as illegal.