Israel plans large settlement at shuttered Jerusalem airport

Israel plans large settlement at shuttered Jerusalem airport

Israel plans large settlement at shuttered Jerusalem airport

JERUSALEM — Israel is moving ahead with plans to build a massive Jewish settlement on the site of a long-abandoned airport that the Palestinians had hoped would one day service their future capital in east Jerusalem.

It’s one of several settlement projects that are advancing despite condemnation by the Biden administration, which along with the Palestinians and much of the international community views the settlements as an obstacle to resolving the century-old conflict.

The Atarot settlement would include 9,000 housing units marketed to ultra-Orthodox Jews, making it a “small city” of some 50,000 people next to three densely populated Palestinian communities, according to Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now.

One of the Palestinian neighborhoods, Kufr Aqab, is within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries but on the other side of Israel's separation barrier, a towering concrete wall that runs along the edge of the proposed site. The settlement would be right next to Qalandiya, the main military checkpoint between Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, through which tens of thousands of Palestinians travel each day.

And it would be built on what was once the runway of a century-old airport with a storied history, which today is abandoned and overrun by weeds, with crows nesting on the control tower.

“We are at the heart of a Palestinian urban area," Ofran said. "If Israel builds here a settlement, we are blocking and torpedoing the possibility of an independent Palestinian state and a two-state agreement.”

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war after being attacked by several Arab states, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want all three territories to form their future state and for east Jerusalem to be their capital.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its unified capital and views the settlements as Jewish neighborhoods built to meet the needs of a fast-growing population and to prevent the city from being divided.

"Jerusalem is a living, breathing, growing capital city of the state of Israel," Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said. “The housing project will provide thousands of much needed housing units.”

An Israeli government official said the project is in the early stages of planning, and that it will likely be years before it comes up for government approval. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan is still being discussed at the municipality level.

Ofran acknowledged it would be at least four years before construction begins, but said the planning process is well underway. A municipal committee voted in support of the project on Wednesday, and a district committee is expected to approve it Dec. 6.

“As soon as they approve it, it's like a snowball,” Ofran said.

Hassan-Nahoum, the deputy mayor, noted that Israel has facilitated the construction of an industrial zone and a shopping mall nearby that cater to Palestinians.