|The following alert has been jointly issued by Ir Amim and Bimkom.
On Tuesday, March 1, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee is scheduled to discuss the dormant Mount Scopus Slopes National Park plan (TPS 11092a) initiated by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) with the support of the Jerusalem Municipality. This plan proposed to designate the open space between the Palestinian neighborhoods of al-Isawiyyah and A-Tur as a National Park, which would extend eastward from the Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus towards the E1 corridor (see map below).
The National Park plan was initiated over a decade ago, however, essentially frozen since 2014. From the outset, the plan was intended to block any expansion of the adjacent Palestinian neighborhoods who already suffer from acute housing shortages, overcrowding and an ongoing planning stranglehold. In addition to its severe implications on Palestinian housing and development rights, this National Park would enable Israel to create further territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and the E1/Maaleh Adumim area, while increasing fragmentation of the Palestinian space. Together, these measures further erode conditions for any agreed political resolution in the future.
The Mount Scopus Slopes plan must be seen within the context of the INPA’s recent attempts to advance an extension of the National Park around the Old City Walls. While the plans are technically separate, if the dots are connected, it essentially extends the emerging ring of Israeli control around the Old City Basin, marked with a constellation of national parks, settler enclaves, and touristic settlement sites.
The plan for a National Park (TPS 11092a) on the eastern slopes of Mount Scopus was originally developed and promoted by the INPA and Jerusalem municipality in response to attempts by the residents of al-Isawiyyah and A-Tur to advance planning for their communities. The residents began initiating outline plans in the mid-2000s in order to halt home demolitions and put forward equitable planning schemes for the development and improvement of their neighborhoods. Shortly thereafter they discovered that the INPA had begun promoting a plan for a National Park on the only land available for the expansion of these two neighborhoods. This was despite the fact that the residents' plans were being advanced in line with the Jerusalem 2000 outline plan, which explicitly identified areas in these neighborhoods for expansion. This city-wide outline plan, then in the making, was later approved for public review, but never actually deposited, nor approved.
According to the National Park plan, the borders of the park were drawn to completely abut the existing homes in each neighborhood, depleting all remaining land reserves in the area and thus blocking any potential expansion of the communities. It should be underscored that there are no natural values or significant archeological remains, which would justify applying the National Park designation to this area. After such claims were refuted, the INPA instead argued that the National Park was intended to preserve the view of the Judean desert.
Over the course of 2011, the plan was recommended for deposit by the Local Planning Committee and by November 2011, the District Planning Committee had approved the plan for public review. Despite the submission of numerous objections, including by the aforementioned communities along with Bimkom and Ir Amim, all objections were dismissed by the District Planning Committee.
Following the dismissal of all of the objections, the residents and organizations filed appeals to the National Planning Council’s Appeals Committee. In September 2014, the Appeals Committee ruled that while it is appropriate to establish a National Park in part of the designated area, the park’s precise dimensions must be determined in line with the development needs of the two neighborhoods. To the best of our knowledge, no proper needs assessment has been conducted and as a result, since 2014, the plan has been effectively frozen until now.
Renewed Attempt to Promote of the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park plan
There is speculation that the Israeli authorities are now attempting to revitalize the National Park plan in tandem with the outline plan being advanced for al-Isawiyyah and the master plan being promoted for A-Tur, Ash-Shayyah and As-Suwwana.
The detailed outline plan (TPS 790758) for al-Isawiyyah, initiated by the Jerusalem municipality, constitutes the first time in decades that such a statutory plan for a Palestinian neighborhood is being promoted by state authorities. It will presumably enable the retroactive authorization of much of the construction carried out in the neighborhood to date and will also significantly increase the permitted scope of residential construction. However, the plan allows little to no expansion of the already densely populated neighborhood due to the borders of the National Park plan. The outline plan for al-Isawiyyah was officially deposited for objections in late January 2022.
Similarly, the master plan (TPS 701037) under preparation by the Jerusalem municipality for A-Tur, Ash-Shayyah and As-Suwwana also proposes further urban development in these areas, including potential new housing units. However, the plan’s boundaries are likewise blocked by the planned National Park. Moreover, it should be underscored that unlike a detailed outline plan, which possesses statutory status, master plans have no statutory validity and are therefore no more than municipal policy documents. In practical terms, the approval of a master plan does not permit the issuance of building permits. The District Planning Committee discussed the plan on February 14 and scheduled an additional discussion for March 14. It should be noted that the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park plan was originally slated to be discussed on February 14 at the same session for the A-Tur plan, but was removed from the agenda and re-scheduled for March 1.
Based on these coinciding developments, it is likely that the INPA and Jerusalem municipality will attempt to circumvent the appeals committee's decision by claiming that the needs of these communities have been theoretically addressed, even if indirectly. They will likely cite the advancement of plans for these neighborhoods and the marginal modification of the National Park's borders (despite its illogic as demonstrated by the two plans for the neighborhoods) as justification for promotion of the National Park. Indeed, according to discussions that have already taken place on the al-Isawiyyah outline plan and commercial zone, it became evident that the INPA conditioned the promotion of the neighborhood's plans on advancement of the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park plan.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that if a proper needs assessment were to be conducted in a professional manner, a new border for the National Park would have to be drawn in order to adequately accommodate for the neighborhoods’ development needs. There is no justification for reviving a decade-old plan without considering its repercussions.
Hence, the advancement of this plan should be seen as another means of preventing the adequate and equitable development of Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, while creating an Israeli continuum between the city and the E1 area. This in turn serves to further entrench Israeli control of East Jerusalem and advance de-facto annexation of Greater Jerusalem, thereby foiling any remaining prospects of a negotiated peace process.
It is therefore vital that such a plan be halted.
Since the plan is a decade old, it is unclear what exactly will take place at the District Planning Committee's upcoming discussion and its subsequent outcome. Bimkom and Ir Amim will be monitoring the discussion and update accordingly.