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Peace Now: Construction of settler building in Silwan expected to be approved

May 31, 2016 4:39 P.M. (Updated: June 1, 2016 10:02 A.M.)
A view of Silwan neighborhood to the south of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem. (MaanImages/Killian Redden,File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Construction of a large building for Israeli settlers in the occupied East Jerusalem area of Silwan is expected to be approved on Wednesday, Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said.

In a statement published on Tuesday, the group said the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee was expected to approve construction for a three-story building in the heart of the Batan al-Hawa neighborhood “in one of the most densely populated areas in East Jerusalem,” where hundreds of Palestinians reside.

The proposed building is to be located near Beit Yonatan, the first illegal outpost established by Israeli settlers in Batan al-Hawa, in 2005.

“The land in the area was sold to the settlers by the Israeli General Custodian without any tender, together with three additional parcels in the neighborhood (Parcels 73, 75, 84, 97)," the statement read.

“The pretext for selling the land to the settlers was the fact that they already own two other parcels in Batan Al-Hawa (parcels 95-96) that were released to them by the General Custodian in September 2002,” it added.

The settlers who obtained the land -- amounting to some five dunams (1.2 acres) -- in 2002 were affiliated with Ateret Cohanim, an organization which works to displace local residents to establish settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Dozens of Palestinian families have been targeted by legal proceedings and hundreds of individuals threatened with eviction in Batan al-Hawa, in order to allow for the illegal settlement expansion expansion “from a couple of isolated houses into a much larger compound with many more settlers,” according to Peace Now.

Peace Now estimated in 2015 that some 30 families were under threat of eviction in different court proceedings, "with a potential of new lawsuits against dozens of more families," all based on a law stipulating that Jewish individuals were allowed to claim ownership of property if they could prove the property was under Jewish ownership before 1948.

Peace Now documented in October that over the course of 2015, settlers affiliated with Ateret Cohanim had doubled their presence in the Batan al-Hawa.

It was also revealed on Tuesday that the Israeli district court in Jerusalem had rejected a Palestinian family's appeal, after Israeli authorities ordered them to evacuate their house in the Saadiyya neighborhood of East Jerusalem's Old City to make room for housing managed by Ateret Cohanim.

News of imminent settler construction in East Jerusalem comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the newly appointed, ultranationalist Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman pledged their commitment to a two-state solution after Lieberman’s swearing in ceremony.

“While Netanyahu and Lieberman just backed the two-state solution, on the ground they are supporting actions that are making a future compromise much more difficult,” Peace Now added.

“The government can still prevent the construction of the house by withdrawing from the deal of selling the four parcels to the settlers. By approving the construction on the eve of Ramadan, Netanyahu and Lieberman risk igniting the region and compromising Israelis' security for the benefit of extreme settlers.”

Around 500 settlers live in Silwan among a population of 45,000 Palestinians, one of many settler enclaves in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods surrounding the Old City, such as Ras al-Amud, al-Tur, Abu Dis, and Sheikh Jarrah.

Illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem are designed to prevent any division of the city -- as is called for in the two state solution -- and to create a Jewish majority population in the city.

East Jerusalem is considered occupied Palestinian territory under international law.

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