The Meretz party has left the Jerusalem City Council over a plan to evict Arab squatters from illegal homes in the King’s Garden and upgrade the Shiloah (Silwan) area.
The project, approved Monday, entails a major renovation in which 22 illegally-built Arab homes are to be demolished and replaced with modern electric, water and sewage infrastructure. The land on which the homes were built is all publicly owned. Nevertheless, each of the 22 Arab families to be displaced will be given land to build new homes.
Despite that compromise, however, a major conflict ensued over the decision, leading to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat firing his deputy mayor, Meretz member Pepe Alalu. He said in a radio interview that Barkat is a “dictator.”
The U.S. State Department immediately slammed the plan as destructive to its ongoing efforts to advance proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Meretz joined the U.S. in its criticism and condemned the Netanyahu government, announcing Tuesday that it would submit a no-confidence motion to protest the Jerusalem city planning committee’s decision to approve the plan.
"We were badly disappointed by the mayor and his policies,” said the faction in a statement released to the media. “His desire to always be in the international headlines has become an obsession and the ‘King’s Garden’ plan is more proof of this.”
Officials in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office worked to pour oil on the troubled waters, noting that as with the multi-step Ramat Shlomo neighborhood development project, this plan was also far from the implementation stage.
The left-wng Meretz party has been a strong supporter of the demand that Israel hand over much of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority for use as the capital of a new Arab country within Israel’s current borders. Among the areas the PA has demanded are the neighborhoods that include Judaism’s holiest sites, especially the entire Old City, and its Temple Mount and Western Wall (Kotel).