Israel is quietly extending its control over East Jerusalem in alliance with rightwing Jewish settler groups, by developing parks and tourist sites that would bring a "drastic change of the status quo in the city", according to two Israeli groups. Ir Amin, a group working for a shared Jerusalem, said the purpose of the "confidential" plan was to link up several areas of East Jerusalem surrounding the Old City with the goal of asserting Israeli control and strengthening its claim to Jerusalem as its capital city.
The accounts come ahead of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, who arrives in Jerusalem tomorrow for a week-long pilgrimage, during which he is likely to hear detailed concerns from Palestinians over their future in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Under an eight-year plan, worth 75m shekels a year (£12m), a series of nine national parks, trails and tourist sites based on apparent Jewish historical spots would be established, most under the control of settler groups working together with the Israeli government. The sites would also create a link to Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The parks would be a "biblical playground" built on public and private land and would be fenced in, the group said...
Peace Now released similar information about the plan, based on a government budget document, saying it feared the proposal was "possibly preventing the ability to reach a two-state solution". ..
The UK-based organisation Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine is closely monitoring Israeli construction (and destruction)-related activities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and has a continually updated roster of key media reports on the issue.