2 Mar 2010
By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem
Critics condemned proposals to relocate properties in East Jerusalem announced by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
Mr Barkat wants to create "The King's Garden" in an area known as the Bustan, a valley in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan just south of the walls of the Old City.The area, adjacent to the ancient City of David, contains archaeological material up to 3,500 years old, and lies within a few hundred yards of the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
To create this major new tourist park, Mr Barkat wants to remove 22 of 88 houses built without permits since 1967 and offer their owners the right to build close by. The new plan includes a major upgrade of roads and infrastructure, and the construction of a new school, community centre and car park.
Mr Barkat has also proposed retrospective approval for dozens of illegal buildings, opening the way for legalising a seven-storey apartment block built by Israeli settlers nearby that the country's high court had previously ordered demolished.
Many Palestinian residents inherited land in the Bustan but have been unable to secure building permits from the Israeli authorities who say the area was always zoned as an open space. Silwan is one of the most overcrowded neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. In recent years, Israeli families have moved into the area helped by right-wing groups.
"The goal is to improve an area that today is one of the lowest and worst in the city and develop it into an area we can all be proud of for the benefit of the residents and the benefit of the city, Mr Barkat told reporters in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
He said the municipality would continue discussions with local residents in the hope of reaching agreement rather than implementing the scheme against their will.
"There are radicals and extremists that whatever we do the answer will be 'no,' who will try to use the plan to accuse us of wrongdoing," he said.
Hatem Abdel Kader, a Fatah leader in Jerusalem, said the mayor's plan was liable to spark violent Palestinian protests.
"Nir Barkat will bear the responsibility for the conflagration that will occur in the city if his plan is carried out," said Mr Abdel Kader.
"If this is what the Israelis want, we will not run away from this confrontation, and this is what they will get," he warned.
Clashes erupted last week at the Al-Aqsa Mosque between Israeli police and Palestinian youths protesting an Israeli decision to declare ancient Jewish shrines in the West Bank as areas of Israeli national heritage.