MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE - Israel's government gave settlers sweet land deals in disputed east Jerusalem, documents show
November 08, 2010
By Diaa Hadid, Associated Press
Jerusalem - — A string of Israeli governments has helped cement the Jewish presence in Arab areas of Jerusalem by selling or leasing property to settler groups at bargain prices, court documents released Sunday show.
The establishment of these Jewish enclaves appears meant to make partition of Jerusalem along ethnic lines - generally seen as a key aspect of any future peace deal - exceedingly difficult.
Buildings were sold to settler groups in and around the sensitive Old City of Jerusalem at a fraction of the going market rates by governments that were involved in peace talks with the Palestinians, who claim those same areas. Sharing Jerusalem is one of the touchiest issues facing Mideast negotiations.
The Old City is divided into four quarters - Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian. In 1948, during the war that followed Israel's creation, Jordan captured the Old City and expelled its Jews. Israel took the Old City back in the 1967 Mideast war, annexed it and re-established the Jewish Quarter, where today about 4,000 Jews live alongside about 30,000 Palestinians in the rest of the old areas.
Over the years, ultra-nationalist Israeli settler groups have been buying up buildings outside the Jewish Quarter. The documents released Sunday show how the Israeli government has been helping them with bargain land prices. The documents refer to 11 such deals, but an anti-settlement activist said there are dozens more.
Some of the properties passed on to the settler groups once belonged to Jews but fell into state hands. Other properties belonged to Arab residents whom the state deemed to be "absentee owners."
In one case, a 40,000-square-foot building just outside the Old City was sold to Jewish settlers in October 2006 for $190,000 - a tiny fraction of its market price. Also that year, an 11,000-square-foot building in the Old City was sold for $69,000, less than the cost of a tiny one-bedroom apartment elsewhere in the city.
"The Israeli government is officially obligated to resolve the (Mideast) conflict through negotiations, but we find out at the same time - left-wing and right-wing governments alike have been cooperating with organizations whose sole goal is to prevent those very same negotiations from succeeding," said Orly Noy of Ir Amim, an Israeli group that supports coexistence in Jerusalem.
On the other hand, if borders are agreed on, a small number of Israelis in a few dozen buildings on the Palestinian side would not likely scuttle implementation of a peace accord. Israel removed 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 when it withdrew.
The documents were released to anti-settlement activist Dror Etkes after a three-year court battle with the Israel Land Administration, which oversees almost all the country's land.