July 29, 2009

Palestinians Can Buy Apartments in West Jerusalem?

Responding to President Obama’s demand that Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently reaffirmed the supposed right of Jerusalem residents to “purchase apartments in all parts of the city.” According to Bibi, “there is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the western part of the city,” and therefore there shouldn’t be a ban on Jews from “buying or building apartments in the eastern part of the city.”

“This is the policy of an open city,” he continued, “an undivided city that has no separation according to religion or national affiliation. We cannot accept the idea that Jews will not have the right to live and purchase in all parts of Jerusalem. I can only describe to myself what would happen if someone would propose that Jews could not live in certain neighborhoods in New York, London, Paris or Rome. There would certainly be a major international outcry. Accordingly, we cannot agree to such a decree in Jerusalem. This has been the policy of Israeli governments over the years and it is also the policy of our Government.”

As usual, Bibi here sounds so righteous and sensible. And as usual, his righteous- and sensible-sounding words are blatantly absurd. Uri Avnery writes: “When Netanyahu says things like that, it is hard to know whether he is spreading lies consciously (though they can easily be exposed), or if he believes his falsehoods himself. Thus, for example, he claimed to remember the British soldiers in front of his home when he was a child—when the last British soldier left the country a year before he was born.”

It’s hard to understand how any regular follower of Israeli politics could fail to agree with Avnery. Responding to Bibi’s declaration, Nir Hasson of Ha’aretz reports that the vast majority of West Jerusalem homes and apartments have been built upon land previously expropriated by the Israeli government. Israel allows its citizens to lease state-owned land. But since Palestinians from East Jerusalem are classified as residents, not citizens, they aren’t allowed to purchase any of these homes or apartments.

And it’s not much easier for Palestinians to buy homes or apartments in East Jerusalem. After the Six-Day War, the Israeli government expropriated one-third of East Jerusalem, building settlements throughout the majority of that land. And, according to B’Tselem, Israeli “authorities have continuously implemented a planning policy that stifles development in Palestinian areas. As part of this policy, Israel makes it difficult to register land under the names of Palestinians; refrains from large-scale planning on land that was not expropriated; zones large swaths of land in Palestinian areas as green areas, on which building is forbidden (only 11 percent of the planned area in Palestinian neighborhoods is available for construction); and permits lower building percentages than are permitted in Jewish neighborhoods.

“As a result of this policy, Palestinian residents find it almost impossible to obtain permits for new construction. Many are left with no option but to build without a permit. The policy has also led to housing density almost twice that in the Jewish neighborhoods. The shortage of housing has forced many Palestinians to leave the city and move to nearby communities in the West Bank.”

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