As we saw in our last article, northern Jerusalem is a critical front in the Arab drive to take over parts of Jerusalem and to then form yet another Arab country in the Land of Israel.
The main Jewish presence in northern Jerusalem is Atarot – site of a former Jewish village, a currently closed airport, and a huge industrial zone that has dwindled to less than half its size as a result of the Oslo War (the Second Intifada).
Despite the above, when security began to improve and Route 443 rendered Atarot easily accessible again, thoughts of how to strengthen its Jewish presence began to be entertained. For instance, the Jerusalem Planning Board floated a plan to build a sizable haredi neighborhood in Atarot. The idea even included a proposal for a tunnel to Atarot from Kochav Yaakov in the east, passing underneath a camp for perpetual Arab refugees.
The idea gained steam, and in late 2007, then-Housing Minister Ze’ev Boim, recently deceased, announced that his ministry was looking into building a new Jewish neighborhood with 10,000 apartments in Atarot.
“It is projects like these that will save Jerusalem [from being divided],” said Jerusalem lands activist Aryeh King recently. For the only way to prevent the strangling of existing Jewish neighborhoods is to build new ones alongside them. This is most definitely a national priority, in order to prevent the capital city of Jerusalem from being slowly divided from within.
Unfortunately, “for some reason,” King continued in frustration, “[Jerusalem Mayor] Nir Barkat shelved the plan.” Minister Boim, as well, made an abrupt about-face, saying just a day after his original announcement that the idea had been rejected.
Little has actually been written regarding why Boim or Mayor Barkat, generally considered to be strong proponents of retaining united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, canceled the hareidi neighborhood plans in Atarot. Some have said, however, that it is likely due to pressure from Uncle Sam – once again indicating the sensitive, strategic nature of Atarot.
Danny Seidemann, founder and legal advisor to the left-wing Ir Amim NGO, has acknowledged that the U.S. was behind the change in plans. Seidemann has warned that a Jewish settlement project in Atarot would disrupt a zone of Arab contiguity extending all the way from Ramallah southwards to Shu’afat, not far from Ramat Eshkol. “Putting 11,000 residential units for Jews in the midst of a major Palestinian strip,” he was quoted as saying, ” would lead to a Balkanization of the area that would make a final status agreement on Jerusalem impossible.”
For this reason, Seidemann continued, “based on my information…there was strong American pressure to drop the plans” to build in Atarot. Others have since seconded this appraisal as well.
In other words, the PA, Ir Amim, and the U.S. are unanimous that 10,000 Jewish housing units could lead to the scuttling of an agreement to divide Jerusalem – and impede plans for a Palestinian state. Can the importance of such a project be made any clearer?
Of late, another plan is taking shape – one that would not restore Atarot as a place where people could live, but rather as one where they will work. The Jerusalem Development Authority is actively promoting the idea, as is Mayor Barkat, of re-zoning the Atarot airport and an adjacent area for a 200-acre industrial bio-tech and hi-tech park. On deck to be built there is a new, state-of-the-art waste recycling plant for the 1,300 tons of garbage collected daily in the city. Slated for relocation to Atarot is the municipality’s Maintenance Center, currently located in Givat Sha’ul. Light industry such as carpentry shops will also be featured in the new park, providing employment for some 20,000 people.
The plan is likely designed to help solve Jerusalem’s housing crunch – without building in Atarot. Givat Sha’ul is an area of prime demand, and housing there is sure to be filled up quickly – while arousing much less international opposition than in Atarot.
On the face of it, then, it appears the new plan will solve two problems at once: Relieve housing congestion in the city and keep Atarot in Jerusalem without irritating the world too greatly. However, upon scratching the surface, several questions arise:
1. The PA is already objecting to the plan, accusing Barkat of attempting to prevent compromise in Jerusalem.
2. The housing in Givat Sha’ul is sure to be significantly more expensive than it would have been in Atarot – begging the question of who will benefit from the new apartments: Young couples from Jerusalem, or wealthy out-of-towners seeking a prestigious apartment in the capital?
Most important is Question 3, with which we conclude: Will an Israeli industrial zone in Atarot put the brakes on the division of Jerusalem and a Palestinian state as effectively as 10,000 Jewish housing units there would? Is it not likely that peace negotiators will find a formula to keep the businesses running even under PA sovereignty?
In short, will Jerusalem remain united and Israeli, or will it be divided, to the detriment of both Arabs and Jews?
For more information on how to participate in keeping Jerusalem Jewish, via updates, bus tours of critical parts of Jerusalem, and more, send an e-mail to [email protected] or visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org.
Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem–Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism.
Hillel Fendel is the senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7 and an author.Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.
Their column appears every other week.