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Gershon Baskin, Ph.D. and Zakaria al Qaq, Ph.D.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is progressing rapidly and with surprising vigor and success.
The redeployment of Israeli forces has taken place in six Palestinian cities which have been taken over by the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinians are embarking on national elections for the first time and the cooperative mechanisms established by Oslo II are up and working.
Israel and Syria have begun a new round of peace talks which seem to have great potential.
All of these positive developments could come to a sudden and abrupt end in the very near future as a result of an Israeli decision taken several years ago.
This decision is about the construction of a new neighborhood for Israelis to be built in the southern part of Jerusalem aimed at creating an Israeli urban sprawl from Jerusalem to Bethlehem called Har Homa (in Hebrew meaning the Mountain of the Wall). The name of the neighborhood itself is indicative of the political intention behind the plan itself.
The Israelis and the Palestinians have agreed (in Oslo I of September 1993) that the future and final status of Jerusalem would be determined by negotiations between the parties in the framework of final status talks which will begin in May 1996.
An Israeli act of building a new neighborhood in Har Homa is not a direct violation of the word of the agreement, however, it is a violation of the spirit of the agreement.
The construction of Har Homa is aimed at creating Israeli contiguous development surrounding Palestinians in East Jerusalem and to further strengthen the Israelis side in the demographic war in East Jerusalem.
This kind of thinking is an anachronism and in light of the peace process, in Jerusalem of 1996 there is no need for another new exclusive Israeli neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Israel claims that most of the land of Har Homa has been expropriated from Jewish land owners who purchased the land prior to the creation of the State of Israel. Factually, this is true, however, it is also factually true that most of the land of West Jerusalem was private\ly owned Palestinian land prior to the establishment of Israel. This kind of claim opens the door to an unending battle over land control.
Elements of this will be in the final status talks about refugees, the right of return and/or the right of compensation.
IPCRI would like to propose two alternative plans to the existing Israeli plan:
Har Homa or Jabel Ghoneim (in Arabic) should become a Palestinian-Israeli Peace Forest.
There is already a forest planted on the mountain. There is so much limited open green space in Jerusalem that keeping the forest would be a blessing for the environment and for peace.
In the center of the forest an Israeli-Palestinian peace center could be established which could serve as a meeting place for Israelis and Palestinians.
There isn't a single piece of real estate in Jerusalem today which is shared. Every building, institution or landmark in the city is either Israeli or Palestinian.
The Har Homa-Jabel Ghoneim Peace Center would be shared property in the city. The center itself could organize meetings or rent out space for ongoing meeting already existing.
The final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians could be held in the center.
There is no better way to turn a space of conflict into a space of peace.
Har Homa-Jabel Ghoneim could become a joint Israeli-Palestinian neighborhood.
Palestinian contractors should be allocated a fair share of the land for development and granted the same conditions and benefits as their Israeli counterparts.
The new neighborhood would be developed as a joint town in which Israelis and Palestinians choose to live in peace.
This is not forced integration but rather peaceful Israelis and Palestinians making a decision to purchase flats in a mixed neighborhood, the first of its kind and a symbol of the new Jerusalem after peace.
What is your role?
IPCRI believes that the international community has a great role to play in helping the Israelis and the Palestinians to achieve real peace between them.
The government of Israel must be aware of the feelings of the international community with regard to this issue.
It is urgent that these opinions be expressed prior to the creation of any more new facts on the ground.
There is a very good chance that ground will be broken in Har Homa in the coming weeks or months.
Mr. Barak and the Government of Israel must know that ground breaking in Har Homa has the potential of being earth shattering in the international diplomatic community.
Immediate attention and action is called for. We have enclosed a Fact Sheet about Har Homa for your review. We would be pleased to arrange for you to visit the sight and to meet with knowledgeable people about future developments. Please feel free to call upon us.
FACT SHEET: HAR HOMA
WHERE IS IT: Har Homa or Abu Ghoneim lies within the Jerusalem boundaries (set by Israel in 1967) between the Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Umm-Tuba and the neighboring Arab city of Beit Sahour (in the West Bank and under PNA rule).
The total planned area for the neighborhood is 1,950 dunam on which 6,500 housing units will be built for some 32,500 Israelis. The built up area of the neighborhood will be 572 dunams.
The housing density will be 3.5 units per dunam, 50% of the units will be of three rooms foryoung couples, the rest will be larger units.
About 1/3 of the units will be single family dwellings.
WHO OWNED THE LAND: On the 12th July 1992 the Israeli Government expropriated 1,850 dunam of vacant land on which there is a planted forest (which is the total planned area of the new neighborhood) and which was previously owned approximately seventy per cent by Jewish interests and thirty per cent by Arabs and Christians. (In 1937 the Jewish agency bought 25% of the total land area of the planned neighborhood.
In 1967, the Jewish Agency purchased an additional plot bringing its total holdings to 572 dunam and a Jewish Developing company Mekor purchased 760 dunam the remaining 428 dunam were owned by private Arab landowners).
Over the past several years there have been continuous court cases between the various land development companies in Israel and the Government of Israel over the question of who legally owns the lands and the amount of compensation to be paid for the expropriation. In the end, the government will be paying the land development companies some $45,000 per dunam as compensation.
The Palestinian land owners have refused to accept any compensation for the expropriated land.
The Courts: The expropriation was challenged by two groups, one Jewish and one Arab before the Israeli High Court of Justice.
Earlier this year the High Court of Justice dismissed these challenges upholding the expropriation as within the government's legitimate right to expropriate land for a public purpose. The government plans to build 6500 dwelling units on this land.
ISSUES: The expropriation raises a number of important issues
1. Har Homa lies within the boundaries of Jerusalem whose status under the Oslo Agreements is to be determined in the final negotiations which are to commence no later than May 1996.
The building of a Jewish neighborhood in an area previously uninhabited by Jews is inconsistent with this commitment to negotiations. Further, it may be construed as a deliberate attempt to strengthen Israel's stronghold over Jerusalem by altering its physical and demographic status. Given the tensions on both sides of the peace process this construction will most certainly incite anger and violence.
2. The establishment of an Israeli presence in this area begs the question of expansion. Given the government's commitment to urban continuity it is likely that expropriation will continue to the east and westward to connect with Gilo thereby establishing a ring of Israeli neighborhoods on Jerusalem boundaries.
3. The Arab challenge to the High Court of Justice argued that the overcrowding and substandard conditions in the surrounding Arab villages meant that any development should be preserved for the Palestinian people.
In the past twenty-eight years no new neighborhoods have been built to accommodate the Arab population while over sixty thousand dwelling units have been built for Israelis on expropriated land.
Further the development would cut Arabs off from Bethlehem and the surrounding Arab towns.
4. Lastly the area houses a number of Christian sites including St Theodore's Well and several Byzantine and Georgian monasteries. The area also contains a significant area of forest.
If you have any questions or comments, we can be reached:
By Phone: 972-2-274382
By Fax: 972-2-274383
By E-Mail: [email protected]
By Snail Mail:P.O. Box 51358, Jerusalem 91513, Israel
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