Last month Israel published tenders for the construction of 1,761 illegal housing units for Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem alone, according to the Israeli rights group, Peace Now.
Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem says there are nearly 192,000 Israeli settlers residing illegally in 12 settlements in East Jerusalem.
Jerusalem municipality's redrawing of the city's municipal boundaries has incorporated the illegal settlements, while the building of the separation barrier, which separates Israel proper from the West Bank, has increased the number of Palestinians on the 'wrong side' of the barrier or wall, thereby further limiting a Palestinian presence.
According to conservative UN figures, about 25 percent of the 253,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have been cut off from the city by the barrier.
"The Israelis are implementing the final plan to Judaise Jerusalem completely," Suhail Khalilieh, head of the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem (ARIJ) settlement unit told IPS.
"The plan began when Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. The last stage of the plan involves the completion of the barrier with the specific aim of manipulating the demographics and limiting the balance of the Palestinian population to a mere 15-20 percent, with the remainder being Jewish," said Khalilieh.
East Jerusalem is of particular importance to Palestinians because under international law it belongs to them and is designated the capital of a future Palestinian state. They also have significant cultural, religious, educational and business ties to the city.
Al-Aqsa Mosque, the second holiest Islamic site, as well as sites where Christ is said to have been buried and crucified are in East Jerusalem. Many Palestinians are Christian, even though they are a minority.
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is trying to address the future status of East Jerusalem, which it considers a red line issue, within the framework of final negotiations on a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
But the PNA faces a task of Sisyphean proportions as Israel's encroachment of East Jerusalem has steadily increased over the decades since 1967, when a third of the area was expropriated from individual Palestinian landowners during the annexation and used exclusively to build settlements.
The expropriation, in defiance of the Fourth Geneva Convention, was justified on the basis of classifying Palestinian-owned land as vacant or unused, as many Palestinians fled the war temporarily to neighboring countries.
"Palestinians residing outside of Jerusalem for seven or more years lose their Jerusalem residency status unless they can prove Jerusalem residency within the municipal boundaries and the importance of the city in their daily life, which is imperative in order to keep their identity cards," says B'Tselem.
This does not apply to Israelis in West Jerusalem.
According to UN figures, in 2006 at least 1,360 Palestinians had their ID cards revoked. This was five times more than in 2005, and more than in any previous year since Israel began occupying East Jerusalem.
In 2003, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel law was enacted, which denies spouses from the occupied Palestinian territories, who are married to Israeli citizens or permanent residents (Jerusalem ID card holders), the right to acquire citizenship or residency status, and thus the opportunity to live with their partners in Israel and Jerusalem.
As a result, thousands of married couples are forced to live apart from one another.
In Israel, foreign spouses who are Jewish are automatically granted citizenship under Israel's Law of Return.
Furthermore, since 1982 the Israeli Interior Ministry has not permitted the registration of Palestinian children as Jerusalem residents if the child's father does not hold a Jerusalem ID card, even if the mother is a Jerusalem ID cardholder.
Jerusalem's urban planning too, has been fine-tuned to increase the Jewish population with tax incentives and massive investment in Jewish neighborhoods, while severely restricting construction in Palestinian neighborhoods to seven percent of East Jerusalem.
"However, even before Palestinians are permitted to build they need to obtain the requisite building permits which are both expensive and extremely difficult to obtain," said Khalilieh.
Even if Palestinians are fortunate enough to get the permits, they are still restricted to building on only 25 percent of their land.
Again, these restrictions do not apply to Jewish residents of West Jerusalem.
Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) says there is currently a housing shortage of 25,000 units in East Jerusalem, and fewer homes means higher prices.
"Despite the housing shortage, Israel's municipality grants Palestinians only around 150 to 350 work permits a year, yet demolishes 150 or more existing homes at the same time," said Halper.
Houses built without permits are demolished by the municipality.
B'Tselem states that both Israelis and Palestinians build illegally, but that the response of the authorities is not equal. Palestinians account for about 20 percent of illegal construction, yet more than 75 percent of the demolitions are carried out on Palestinian homes.
"While demolitions carried out in Jewish neighborhoods target either commercial buildings or additions to a house, in Palestinian neighborhoods such demolitions leave entire Palestinian families homeless," added the human rights group.
ICAHD further asserts that Palestinians face discrimination in regard to budgeting and taxation as well as essential needs like water, sewage, roads, parks, lighting, post offices, schools and other services.
The PNA continues to negotiate with the Israelis despite the continued settlement building and land expropriation.
"The Palestinians are in an extremely weak position. If they stopped negotiations on this basis, Israel would put the blame on failed talks squarely on their shoulders, with the support of the U.S., and continue with establishing facts on the ground irrespectively," Khalilieh told IPS.
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Albion Monitor September
9, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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