- Iman Erekat
- BBC Arabic correspondent – Qalandia, north of Jerusalem
The work of the Israeli bulldozers has not subsided in the lands of the town of Qalandia, north of Jerusalem, for months, specifically over the Jerusalem International Airport, the only air port in the West Bank, which was permanently closed by the Israeli authorities nearly two decades ago. The dredging works pave the way for the construction of a new settlement.
What was preliminary demolition work was added on Wednesday to an official preliminary approval, as the Planning and Building Committee in the Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction of the settlement, in an official Israeli decision that is the first of its kind for a settlement in East Jerusalem of this size since the nineties of the last century.
I met Maqdisi Raafat Awadallah on a hill overlooking his home in the town of Qalandia, north of East Jerusalem. We watched Israeli construction of a settlement he said would be built on top of his house, as well as about twenty-five other apartment buildings in which hundreds of Palestinians live, in the area under full Israeli control.
Raafat explained to me how he went to the Israeli courts two years ago with a petition to prevent the demolition of his house, which was rejected by the judiciary at the time, only to come recently the decision of the Jerusalem municipality to establish the settlement.
Raafat Awadallah, the mayor of Qalandia village, added, “The fate is unknown, we don’t know what to do! The Israeli decision came not only to demolish my house, but to all the houses around here, and to steal our lands in favor of building a settlement that will abandon us again, if they demolish my house.” I will build a tent to stay on my land.”
Awadallah confirmed the demolition of the homes of more than 38 percent of the residents of Qalandia village during the past three years, in preparation for the establishment of the new settlement by the Israeli authorities.
Settlement 28 in Jerusalem
The new settlement, which bears No. 28 in the city of Jerusalem, will include the construction of 11,000 housing units on an area of more than 1,240 dunums in the town of Qalandia.
Commenting on the construction plan, the Jerusalem municipality merely told the BBC that “the settlement will meet the interests of the public and the public benefit in various sectors of society, particularly the residential and academic sectors.”
Therefore, hotels, public parks and industrial areas will be built in it.
Aryeh King, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, told Reuters that the plan, which requires further approval stages, is to build 3,000 homes, with another 6,000 eventually being added.
Isolating Jerusalem from its surroundings
If the settlement is completed, East Jerusalem will be completely isolated from its surroundings, with a settlement belt that includes a network of bypass roads, tunnels and bridges connecting the Israeli settlements.
This is seen as a practical implementation of what is known as the “Israeli Greater Jerusalem Plan”, according to the official Palestinian expression.
The Palestinian government considered that the construction of the new settlement comes within a “comprehensive plan to Judaize the city of Jerusalem, and an attempt to remove it from any future bilateral negotiations” to find a comprehensive solution to the conflict.
I spoke with the official in the Palestinian Authority against the Wall and Settlements, Qassem Awad, and he told me: “This settlement will swallow up the Palestinian dream of restoring the historic Al-Quds International Airport, where hundreds of international flights have landed decades ago. The Oslo Agreement stipulated that the Palestinian Authority would restore it to be the Palestinian airport for our future state.” But the Israeli occupation kills everything that would prove that there is a prospect for a just and comprehensive peace for the two peoples.
The plan for the new settlement was frozen for many years on several occasions, as a result of the international anti-settlement pressure, which was renewed with condemnation from the European Union.
Representatives of the European Union had recently conducted field tours in the town of Qalandia to see the construction works of a settlement, which the European Union considered “violating international law and threatening what remains of the possibility of implementing the two-state solution.”
This expression was repeated by the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said that the Israeli decision indicates that “Israel seeks to separate Jerusalem from its Palestinian surroundings, and to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
The Palestinian ministry urged the United States and the major powers to “immediately intervene to stop these settlement projects.”
The US embassy in Jerusalem has not commented on the matter yet. Nor was there a response to criticism from the Palestinians and representatives of the European Union from the central Israeli government.
‘small israeli town’
“The new project will be the size of a small Israeli city, making it the largest settlement built in East Jerusalem since the construction of Har Homa” (built in The nineties of the last century and its population in 2013 was about 25,000).
Zonszen believes that the new project, like other settlement projects in the West Bank, “shows Israel’s intention to continue settlement in the lands it occupies, in direct defiance of the Palestinian national decision, and the opportunities for geographical contact between Ramallah and Jerusalem,” noting that despite the existence of “Plans” to build settlements in East Jerusalem that, if established, would separate Jerusalem from the West Bank. The current project remains among the largest settlement projects in East Jerusalem
But she adds that the Jerusalem municipality’s decision does not mean that the matter has been finalized, as “in the event of sufficient international pressure, the Israeli government can put an end to the project, or at least postpone it,” she says.