Jerusalem Settlement Boom

In this Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 photo, Palestinian Jamil Masalmeh uses a power tool to destroy an apartment he had added to his home years earlier, in the Silwan neighborhood of east Jerusalem. When he failed to secure a permit, Israeli municipal authorities gave him the option of destroying it himself or paying more than $20,000 for the city to demolish it. New data shows a spike in Jewish settlement construction in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem since President Donald Trump took office and a huge, decades-old gap in the number of building permits granted to Jewish and Palestinian residents. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

By JOSEPH KRAUSS

and MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH

Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Jewish settlement construction in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem has spiked since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, according to official data obtained by The Associated Press.

The data also showed strong evidence of decades of systematic discrimination, illustrated by a huge gap in the number of construction permits granted to Jewish and Palestinian residents.

The expansion of the settlements in east Jerusalem, which Israel seized along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war, threatens to further complicate one of the thorniest issues in the conflict.

The refusal to grant permits to Palestinian residents has confined them to crowded, poorly served neighborhoods, with around half the population believed to be at risk of having their homes demolished.

The data was acquired and analyzed by the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, which says it only obtained the figures after a two-year battle with the municipality. It says the numbers show that while Palestinians make up more than 60% of the population in east Jerusalem, they have received only 30% of the building permits issued since 1991.

The fate of the city, which is home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, is at the heart of the decades-old conflict. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, while Israel views the entire city as its unified capital. Tensions have soared since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moved the U.S. Embassy there, breaking with a longstanding international consensus that the city’s fate should be decided in negotiations.

Trump has argued that his recognition does not preclude a final settlement. But the Palestinians and rights groups say his unbridled support for Israel’s nationalist government has given it a free pass to tighten its grip on war-won lands sought by the Palestinians.

Peace Now found that in the first two years of Trump’s presidency, authorities approved 1,861 housing units in east Jerusalem settlements, a 60% increase from the 1,162 approved in the previous two years. The figures show that 1,081 permits for settler housing were issued in 2017 alone, the highest annual number since 2000. A total of 1,233 housing units were approved for Palestinians in 2017 and 2018, according to Peace Now.

The data did not include the number of Jewish and Palestinian applications, or the rates of approval, though many Palestinians acknowledge not applying because they say it is nearly impossible to get a permit.

Spokesmen for the Israeli government and the municipality did not respond to requests for comment.

The figures are for construction permits issued by the municipality, the final step of a costly bureaucratic process that can take years to complete. The figures show that since 1991, the municipality has issued 21,834 permits for housing units in Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and just 9,536 for Palestinian neighborhoods.

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