In an interview with Palestine News Network, Khaleel Tafakji, a Palestinian expert of lands and settlements tackled some of the issues on Jerusalem and its future as a result of Israel’s policies in the city since 1967.
The policies include confiscations of land and properties, construction of settlement blocs and annexing them to Jerusalem in order to create the Greater Jerusalem, according to the Israeli plan.
Israel’s policy of house demolishing for not getting legal construction permits aims at emptying Jerusalem form its Arab population, and thus affecting the demographical balance there by reducing the number of Palestinian in Jerusalem and increasing its Jewish residents, which will directly affect the final status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
The construction of the Separation Wall around the city is almost completed that directly started affecting the social, educational and health conditions of the residents who became isolated outside the Wall, which will eventually lead to loosing their Jerusalem identity and transform them into residents of the West Bank
Following is the interview with Tafakji:
Translated by, Manar Jibrin-IMEMC
Q- As an expert in the geography of Palestine and settlements, how many acres of the Palestinian lands have been confiscated after the Road Map Plan?
A-Land confiscation began after Oslo Agreement in 1993, the agreement stated that 42% of the land will be under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and 58% was under the Israeli control.
Israel used the areas it controlled to build new roads, natural preserves, and expanding settlements. Some of the settlements were constructed in lands which were considered as absentees’ properties.
There is no exact number of acres confiscated before both Oslo Accords and Road Map.
Today, Israel is actually occupying more lands for the construction of the Separation Wall. In 1995, Israeli constructed a Wall in the West Bank village of Shweika, near Tulkarem, and Hablah near Qalqilia .The construction of the wall that was approved in 2001 on lands that were already occupied.
Q- What are the economic, social and geographical impacts of the Separation Wall around Jerusalem?
A: In 1973, the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Jerusalem Affairs said that the total number of Arabs in Jerusalem should not exceed 22% of the total population, but as a result of natural growth of the population, the Arab residents constitute now-a-day 35% of the total population.
By constructing the Wall, Israel will isolate 120-125 thousand Palestinians, and separate them from the boundaries of Jerusalem.
The Wall aims to get rid of the Arab population and establish the Great Jerusalem project which aims to grab Palestinian areas, east of the city, but without the Palestinian residents.
The Jerusalem municipality, along with the Israeli government, is continuously demolishing Palestinian homes in Jerusalem after claiming that they are illegally constructed.
This policy aims to empty the city from its Palestinian population, and increase the Jewish presence in order to affect the outcome of the final status negotiations.
Drawing the border to the Great Jerusalem, with Israeli majority, means more areas less Arabs.
Two proposals were afforded; the first was to go to West Jerusalem, and the Israelis objected this, while the second was to annex settlement largest blocs to East Jerusalem. The main settlement block is Maali Adumim.
Israel is planning to expand the settlement block by grabbing the Palestinians areas and link the settlement to Jerusalem.
The planned borders extend from Al Khan Ahmar area in the east of Jaba’ in the north to Geva’t Zee’v to Gush Atzion in the south. This area represents 8-10% of the West Bank, and extends to around Bethlehem and Hebron.
Meanwhile, the Wall aims to preventing any future solution for the occupied Jerusalem, the main core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the capital of the future Palestinian State.
Tafakji added that the Wall will directly affect the health and educational situation in the Palestinian areas in Jerusalem.
Most of the school students of Jerusalem attend schools that are outside Jerusalem, such as Abu Dis, Al Ezariyya, and Al Ram, in the West Bank.
Q. There are 1300 houses registered the Israeli land department. What are the measures that are taken to stop leaking of the Palestinian properties to the Israelis in the old city of Jerusalem?
Israel wants to have the upper hand in Jerusalem by owning as many properties as it can, especially in the Jewish quarter and in the Moroccan neighborhood in the old city. At the final status negotiations Israel owns properties inside the old city.
Q. what will the Israeli government achieve by turning the Palestinian territories into isolated cantons?
By doing this Israel will control most of the lands, by transforming 70% of the Palestinian lands into settlement, with 80% of settlers population. The Wall aims to make the Palestinian cities as border areas, in order to avoid evacuating to the 1967 borders.
According to these plans the Separation wall was constructed in away that would divide the West Bank into eight cantons obstructing the geographical contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
These cantons will be surrounded from all sides by areas under Israeli control.
Israel aims at reducing the increase of population and enforcing a voluntary immigration abroad limiting the economic development on those cantons.
Q- Jerusalem Municipality intends to demolish dozens of Palestinian houses in areas like Silwan Al Tur and Al Esawiyyah. Is there any national Palestinian plan to act against this decision?
A- Because of land confiscation and prohibiting the construction of houses inside the city, the only solution was to go outside of its municipal border, or to illegally construct inside the city and taking responsibility of any demolishing.
This policy led to increase the number of Israeli housing units is 59 thousand compared to 34 thousand Palestinian house units.
Israel is constructing Walls, and settlements, and is not allowing the residents to construct there, which forces them to leave and try to find residence east of the city, which will affect the final status negotiations.
Boundaries of Jerusalem
Israel wants to expel the Palestinian from Jerusalem, and annex all settlements bloc east the city, especially the Maali Adumim settlement Bloc, to its boundaries, and create the Greater Jerusalem, which includes a vast majority of residents.
The planned boundaries of Jerusalem extend from Al Khan Al Ahmar area, east of the city, to Jaba’, in the north, Jiv’at Zeev, in the west, and Gush Atzion, south of the city.
Israel has a plan which it intends to achieve in 2020; the plan intends to create an Arabic minority in the city.
There are 26.000 Arabs in the old city, and 2600 Jews, Israel is constructing settlements in order to bring more Jews in order to increase the Jewish presence.
As for the Palestinian areas around Jerusalem, Israel intends to transform them into isolated cantons completely surrounded by areas controlled by Israel.
This is part of the policy of voluntary immigration, especially immigration to Jordan as man y Israeli officials repeatedly stated that Jordan is the alternative hometown of the Palestinians.
Since these cantons are isolated, its economic development cannot be achieved and the residents will not receive any forces which will eventually force them to evacuate.
In 1967, before Jerusalem was occupied, there were 12000 houses for the Palestinians, especially in Al Tour, Al Esawiyya and Silwan; there was no Jewish presence in the old city, now there are 59.000 houses for Jews and 34.000 houses for the Palestinians.
This is a direct proof that the case here is demographic as Israel continuously worked in order to lessen the Palestinian presence and increase the Jewish majority.
So far, Jerusalem was not mentioned in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has the power since it totally controls Jerusalem, it continues to grab the lands, and remove the residents.
Jerusalemite residents are not considered Israelis because they don’t carry Israeli nationality and only carry residency permits, they are not Palestinians because they don’t carry Palestinian identity, and not Jordanians because they don’t carry Jordanian passports.