Jerusalem's great carve-up: In the fight to keep the city Jewish, bulldozers are clearing the way for new eastern settlements

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The Independent Online
ON A once tranquil hillside in the north of Arab East Jerusalem, dust swirls in the air as Israeli bulldozers forge ahead in the battle for Jerusalem.

In Shu'afat, Arab villagers look on as the diggers chew away at land that was taken from them for 'public purposes' and is now the site of a new settlement, comprising 2,043 homes for orthodox Jews. Settlers are already arriving at the site. 'It will be very beautiful to live here, and very cheap,' said a Jewish bible student last week.

On Arab lands to the south and the east, annexed by Israel after the 1967 war, the bulldozers are also advancing. A ring road is under construction to link the expanding belt of Jewish settlements around the city. A 600-metre tunnel is to be cut under the Mount of Olives, in Arab East Jerusalem, within the next few months. And at Arab Beit Jala, Palestinian homes shudder as dynamite blasts the two tunnels to link the Jerusalem settlements with those in the southern West Bank.

Israel's claim to Jerusalem as its capital has never been internationally recognised; most countries still regard East Jerusalem as 'occupied'. Though settlement on occupied land is illegal under international law, most Israelis feel that the entire city must remain under Israeli sovereignty.

Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, wants East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state. The conflict over Jerusalem, riven with religious and historical jealousies, is the dynamite that could explode the peace process.

The timetable of the Oslo accords states that autonomy for Gaza and Jericho will be the first stage of Palestinian self- rule, and that the future status of Jerusalem is not to be discussed until 1996. The accords also state that neither side should take action to influence the final status of the city ahead of the negotiations by placing 'facts on the ground'.

Each side has been accusing the other of creating 'facts on the ground in Jerusalem'. But while the United States has withheld loan guarantees to penalise Israel for settling on West Bank land, no penalties have been imposed for building in Jerusalem.

Uri Lupolianski, deputy mayor and head of planning, said last week that Israel's aim was to increase the number of Jews living in Jerusalem by 70,000 over the next two years. This would mean a Jewish majority of 80 per cent in the city by the time negotiations begin. He predicts that many of the newcomers will come from West Bank settlements, which believe that their future is threatened by Palestinian autonomy.

'If Israel remains strong, the Arabs will accept that Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty,' said Mr Lupolianski, an orthodox Jew. 'Jerusalem is not holy to the Arabs like it is to the Jews.'

The latest building drive centres on filling in the gaps between existing settlements, extending a new ring outside the municipal boundary to form 'Greater Jerusalem', and creating a new north-south, east- west road network that will blur boundaries between Arab and Jewish settlements. The Israeli building schemes include:

At least three settlements inside municipal boundaries, on land expropriated from Arabs 'for public purposes'.

Expansion of settlements inside the municipal boundary.

A settlement block on West Bank land to the east of the municipal boundary, so-called Greater Jerusalem, which will house 70,000 new settlers. Also in Greater Jerusalem, Givat Zeev is to be expanded, and a new settlement of Neve Haim (600 units) is to be built joining the block to Jerusalem.

Three tunnels for a network of three new roads forming a ring road. Two new roads will link new settlements.

Within the city's Arab neighbourhoods, at least two new settlements are planned, totalling 500 units.

Israel's drive for supremacy in Jerusalem has always been primarily demographic. After 1967, when the East was annexed and the municipal boundaries expanded threefold, the aim was to achieve a 95 per cent Jewish majority in the city. In Arab East Jerusalem in 1967, there were no Jewish residents; today it has 160,000 Jews and about 150,000 Arabs. In the city as a whole, with a population of 600,000, the Jewish majority is about 75 per cent.

'What Israel has achieved in Jerusalem is one of the greatest demographic changes in the history of the world,' says Sarah Kaminker, a town planner who opposes the settlements.

Israeli planners are also continuing their policy of restricting Arab building in annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank hinterland. Of the 18,000 acres of Arab lands annexed by Israel in 1967, only 12 per cent is now available to Palestinians for development as a result of Israeli zoning laws.

For example, in Shu'afat, site of the new religious settlement, Arab villagers used to own a total of 1,303 acres. Of this, 300 acres, once used for grazing, was expropriated by the Israelis in 1970, zoned as a 'green area' to prevent Arab building, and re-zoned for Jewish building four months ago. The village has now been given a building plan by the Jerusalem municipality for the remainder of its land. Of this, more than 40 per cent has now also been zoned off as 'green'.

'By the time negotiations begin, there will be almost no land left to talk about,' says Khalil Tufakji, a geographer and member of the Palestinian peace team.

Many Israelis agree. Avraham Kahila, the chief Israeli planner who oversaw the beginning of the building programme under Jerusalem's last mayor, Teddy Kollek, said this week: 'It will be impossible for Mr Arafat to claim East Jerusalem as his capital. He may be able to do something symbolically. But our building has made it impossible to divide the city again.'

(Photograph omitted)