Israeli police tore down Palestinian protest tents in an area slated for Israeli building just outside Jerusalem after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Israeli government. Some 50 Palestinian demonstrators were removed from the area earlier this week.
It was the latest scuffle over an area that Israel calls E-1 (the “E” refers to east of Jerusalem) and the Palestinians have named Bab al-Shams (the gate of the sun). That piece of land between east Jerusalem and Maalei Adumim on land Israel captured in the 1967 war has become the focus of international attention.
In late November, after the United Nations upgraded “Palestine” to a non-member observer state, Israel announced a series of construction plans, including in E-1. More than the others that set off a wave of international condemnation. Palestinians say that construction will virtually divide the West Bank in two and make an independent Palestinian state virtually impossible.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told The Media Line that the Palestinian claims are not true. But he also seemed to say that Israel has no intention of building in E-1 anytime soon.
“We havent’ made a decision to build yet—we’re only doing planning and zoning,” Regev said. “Actual construction will require a separate decision by the government.”
At the same time Regev said that every Israeli government has envisioned Maalei Adumim, with its 40,000 residents, as part of Israel.
“E-1 is the connection between Jerusalem and Maaeli Adumim and it’s only natural that in final status peace we’d want to see that area as part of Israel.”
Currently there is an Israeli police station on the site of 4.6 kilometers. Several Bedouin communities and their livestock live in the area.
Palestinian activists say they hope to rebuild the tent encampment that Israel dismantled. They say they are taking a page from Israeli history. When Israel built communities in the post – 1967 land, they often started with tents which were eventually replaced with permanent housing. Palestinians created a new village council for Bab al-Shams, which will be part of the Jerusalem district of the Palestinian Authority.
Dovish Israeli groups also attacked Israel’s plans to build in E-1.
“E-1 is the most serious provocation by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the recent period,” Yoav Peck, an activist with the dovish Peace Now group told The Media Line. “It was on the shelf for a long time and was brought out as a way of punishing the Palestinian Authority for its declaration of statehood at the UN.”
Peck says that while all construction in post 1967 land is an obstacle to peace, building at E-1 is especially egregious.
“It would break the contiguity of the Palestinian state and the ability of Palestinians to get from Ramallah north of Jerusalem to Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem,” Peck said. “Secondly, one of the Palestinians central demands is that they be able to establish their capital in East Jeruaslem and E-1 makes that virtually impossible.”
Regev said that just as Israel envisioned a “safe passage” between the West Bank and Gaza during peace negotiations with Israel, Israel will make it possible for Palestinians to travel between Ramallah and Bethlehem.
He also insisted that, despite reports to the contrary, relations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama are just fine.
“The US and Israel are very close partners and allies, we’ve seen this just in the last month,” Regev insisted. “We saw unprecedented support for Israel in the framework of the fighting we had in Gaza, with America supporting Israel. We saw America’s votes in the UN and America’s support for the Iron Dome Missile system which is protecting the Israeli public.
“President Obama has said the security cooperation between the US and Israel is at an all-time high and we echo those sentiments.”