|Tomorrow (24 November), the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee will be holding a discussion on the outline plan (TPS 764936) for the massive new settlement/neighborhood in Atarot involving 9,000 housing units, hotels and commercial spaces on an area of 1243 dunams. The plan is designated for the location of the old Atarot Airport, situated on the northern perimeter of East Jerusalem. As reported previously, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee is likewise slated to convene a discussion on the plan on December 6. Similar to the plans in Givat Hamatos and Pisgat Zeev, the outline plan for Atarot was initiated by the Ministry of Housing and Construction whose current minister is Ze'ev Elkin (Tikva Hadasha/New Hope party).
The Atarot plan is extensive in its scope and will create an Israeli wedge between Ramallah and the northern perimeter of East Jerusalem, echoing similar ramifications of the E1 plans in the east and the Givat Hamatos and Har Homa E plans in the south. Construction in any of these settlements, let alone their compounded impact, will fracture the integrity of Palestinian Jerusalem and sever it from the West Bank in every direction, rendering a future negotiated resolution unviable.
Beyond its geopolitical implications, the Atarot plan underscores the systematic discrimination implicit in Israeli planning and building policy in Jerusalem. While outline plans for thousands of housing units are advanced for Israeli settlements and neighborhoods across Jerusalem, in contrast, little to no plans are promoted for Palestinian areas. In the absence of such plans, it is impossible to procure building permits, forcing many Palestinians to build without them, which subjects their homes to the threat of demolition. This unequitable urban planning has long served as a lever of Palestinian displacement from the city in service to Israel's longstanding goal of preserving a Jewish demographic majority in Jerusalem, while further entrenching Israeli territorial control.
Rather than utilizing the space in Atarot to meet the severe housing needs of the Palestinian population, the Israeli authorities are instead advancing a massive new settlement for Israelis in East Jerusalem directly adjacent to two Palestinian neighborhoods, which are in dire need of proper residential development – Beit Hanina to its south and Kufr Aqab to its north. Located just meters away, the new settlement will stand in stark juxtaposition with Kufr Aqab, one of eight East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods physically detached from the city by the Separation Barrier whose residents must cross a checkpoint in order to access the rest of the city. These isolated enclaves suffer from acute municipal neglect and are devoid of basic service provision exemplified in the substandard living conditions and hazardous unrestrained and unregulated construction. It should be noted that Ze'ev Elkin, the current Minister of Housing and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, who is strongly promoting the Atarot plan, proposed legislation in 2017 to formally remove the neighborhoods beyond the barrier from the Jerusalem municipality.
It is important to underscore that the plans for Atarot along with E1, Givat Hamatos and Har Homa E are being advanced under the current so-called "government of change" who has committed to preserving the status quo and contains members who are in theory advocates of the two-state framework. Yet, these measures are rather entrenching the occupation and foreclosing any remaining prospect of an agreed political resolution, consigning both Israelis and Palestinians alike to an irreparable one-state reality whereby one group is afforded full basic civil and human rights, while the other is deprived of those same rights.