Just about everything frequently alleged against Israeli settlements in the West Bank can be said, truthfully, about recent Palestinian construction on the outskirts of Jerusalem, writes Bassam Tawil. Such construction is illegal; it is intended to impede the possibility of a two-state solution; and it often takes place on land stolen from private Palestinian owners.
Apparently, settlements are only a “major obstacle to peace” when they are constructed by Jews. In recent years, and continuing to the present, Palestinians, with the aid of Western donors for whom only Jewish construction is anathema, have been working night and day to create irreversible facts on the ground. . . .
Recently, entire Arab neighborhoods with crowded high-rises have shot up around Jerusalem. Only a handful of steps separate some of the buildings, and most lack proper sewage systems. Apartment prices range from $25,000 to $50,000. These are ridiculous prices compared with the market costs of apartments in both Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Today, it is almost impossible to purchase a three-room apartment in the city for less than $250,000. . . .
[I]t is not an Arab housing crisis that is prompting this spree of illegal Palestinian construction. Rather, the goal is political: to show the world that Jerusalem is an Arab, and not a Jewish, city. By and large, the apartments remain empty: there is simply no real demand.
Who is behind the unprecedented wave of illegal construction? According to Arab residents of Jerusalem, many of the “contractors” are actually land-thieves and thugs who lay their hands on private Palestinian-owned land or on lands whose owners are living abroad. But they also point out that the EU, the PLO, and some Arab and Islamic governments are funding the project. “They spot an empty plot of land and quickly move in to seize control over it,” said a resident whose land was “confiscated” by the illegal contractors.