Respond to Palestinian plans by building in Atarot

Atarot is Jewish-owned land that was captured by Jordan in 1948 and liberated by Israel in 1967. It could be the answer to both the city's housing shortage and its demographic crisis.

The abandoned Atarot Airport north of Jerusalem, April 8, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The abandoned Atarot Airport north of Jerusalem, April 8, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Nadav Shragai
Nadav Shragai
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.

At the moment, there is no chance that Palestinian entrepreneur Bashar Masri’s grandiose dreams of building tens of thousands of new housing units in the north of Jerusalem will come to fruition for a few reasons.

First, his building permit was issued a year ago and allows him to construct only 400 units on an 18.5-dunam (4.57-acre) piece of land that borders Atarot and Beit Hanina. Second, the bigger plan, which is more of a vision and has yet to be approved by anyone, discusses “completing” Beit Hanina and expanding its current population of 40,000 to some 120,000.

This plan, which is making the rounds of the Beit Hanina community administrators, currently has no chance of making it through the Jerusalem planning authorities, the Jerusalem Municipality or the district planning committee, where Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has major influence.

And after we’ve said that, we should nevertheless be concerned by this Palestinian vision, which was presented on Tuesday in the presence of Jerusalem Mufti Mohammed Hussein and Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem Theophilus III. Mainly, we should be concerned because it is met with a lack of vision from the Israeli side when it comes to northern Jerusalem.

Moreover, the construction plan of more significance to Jews in the north of the city—the plan to build some 10,000 new housing units in Atarot—has been under a diplomatic freeze for two decades. This was in place under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors, and remains in place under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

At the moment, the Atarot plan is waiting to be put up for public review, but even this stage has been delayed for many years, for reasons that are unclear. Construction for Jewish residents in Atarot is of strategic importance to Jerusalem. Without it, there is a real risk that the city’s northern “finger” will be handed over to the Palestinians at some future date—and they openly want that to happen.

There is nothing more justified than building housing in Atarot, which is Jewish-owned land that was captured by Jordan in the 1948 War of Independence and that Israel liberated in 1967. Since then, it has been waiting for its children, its redeemers, to return.

Of course, building in Atarot is also the right thing to do, given the housing crisis for Jewish residents of Jerusalem. Some 18,000 Jews leave the city each year, mostly because they have nowhere to live.

The plan is also necessary to sway the demographic balance of Jerusalem in favor of the Jews and increase their majority, which has shrunk in the past few decades. Atarot is the answer to the Palestinian Masri family’s vision, and an opportunity for Yamina Party’s Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, and for Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Housing and Construction Ze’ev Elkin and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, formerly from Likud, to prove that they are 10 percent to the right of the previous government.

Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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