Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90
The Nof Zion neighborhood at the heart of Jabel Mukaber in eastern Jerusalem, January 2011.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan landed in Israel on Wednesday and the visit coincided with the Jerusalem Municipality’s planning and construction committee removing from its Wednesday meeting’s agenda the scheduled debate on the plan to expand the Nof Zion religious Jewish neighborhood at the heart of the Arab Jebel Mukaber village in the eastern part of the city.

Halting construction across the old green line has become mandatory in Israel, since the fiasco of September 3, 2010, when the same planning committee approved a plan for 1,600 homes in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, also across the old green line, on the day then-Vice President Joe Biden landed on a state visit. From that harrowing day forward, when a high-level American official visits, the plans are shelved.


But don’t expect to see the Nof Zion item put back on the agenda any time soon. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit in the coming weeks, and Israel has just been attacked by its enemies and friends in the UN over its retaliation against senior Palestinian Authority officials for convincing the UN General Assembly to inquire with The Hague International Court whether Israel is an “occupier” of the “West Bank.” Those friends at the UN included Western allies, but also Arab states with whom Israel has signed the Abraham Accords. Would Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu want to jeopardize Israel’s good relations with old and new friends over the expansion of one luxury neighborhood?

Nof Zion is a Jewish luxury apartment complex located in eastern Jerusalem, near the Armon HaNaziv (Governor’s Palace) promenade, with a magnificent view of the Temple Mount area. There are two streets in the neighborhood, where 91 families live, most of them national-religious. The neighborhood includes two kindergartens, a security playground, and two synagogues. The original plan, back in 2005, when construction there began, was to market the apartments to wealthy diaspora Jews, but the fact that the neighborhood is surrounded by Arab homes made it a hard sell. The knitted yarmulke folks, on the other hand, were happy to move in.

Altogether, the plan is for 395 apartments, and the 100 planned added units would bring the project to close to half its intended size – if the planning is resumed. The Nof HaZahav (Golden View) plan includes the construction of 100 apartments and 275 hotel rooms and is expected to connect the Nof Zion Jewish neighborhood with the Armon HaNaziv neighborhood. Strategically, the plan would not only increase the number of Jewish residents in eastern Jerusalem but also cut through the contiguous Arab neighborhood.

It comes down to whether or not Prime Minister Netanyahu lets the plan move forward.

In 2009, the Commander of the Central Command, General Avi Mizrahi, in his capacity as sovereign over Judea and Samaria, implemented a policy of stopping construction in the settlements for ten months, from November 26, 2009, to September 26, 2010. The settlement freeze policy was initiated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the aim, according to him, of proving to the world that Israel is serious in its intentions to reach a peace agreement.

Since then, the Netanyahu government has conducted an on-again-off-again policy regarding settlement construction freezes. As late as August 2020, the Judea and Samaria Council accused Netanyahu of pushing an unofficial settlement freeze by preventing meetings of the Supreme Planning Commission for Judea and Samaria for close to a year, when its bylines call for it to meet every three months.

Haaretz on Wednesday quoted Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at the anti-Israel Ir Amim NGO, who said that “just the way the state transfers Palestinian homes to settlers in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan (those are Jewish-owned properties – DI), so it did with the area where the new settlement is planned in Jebel Mukaber.” According to Tatarsky, the establishment of a new Jewish settlement “controlling the entrance to Jebel Mukaber, will deepen the armed presence of the police, the Border Guard and armed security guards, which will harm the sense of security and disrupt the daily life of the tens of thousands of [Arab] residents in the neighborhood.”

Yes, that’s the plan. Will Netanyahu block it?


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