the area which could become the new Atarot neighborhood
the area which could become the new Atarot neighborhoodYonatan Sindel/Flash 90

The Jerusalem District Committee refrained from approving for deposit the plan for the construction of the new Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot.

The committee's decision stated that the Environmental protection Ministry should first carry out a survey of the plan's environmental impact.

However, it said: "The committee is under the impression that the plan proposes a proper utilization of the land reserves which have not been utilized to date."

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej (Meretz) appeared before the committee to argue against the construction of the neighborhood, despite the fact that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked made it clear to the committee members that he did not represent the government and its views on the matter. Instead he argued for the reopening of the historic Atarot airport.

"The national strategic resource of an airport should be used for the benefit of all - for the benefit of Jerusalem, for the benefit of Israelis, Palestinians and the entire region. Promoting the plan now may be a historic opportunity. It is possible to establish an airport that will provide a solution for the Jerusalem metropolitan area and more than three million Palestinians, who today cannot go abroad except through Jordan. A joint Israeli-Palestinian airport with a Palestinian terminal with an Israeli checkpoint, Frej claimed.

District Committee member Ofer Berkowitz called on the committee to approve the plan. "This is a historic and very important plan for resolving the housing crisis in Jerusalem. There is no larger land reserve for the construction of ten thousand housing units."

"I welcome its promotion, but I objected to the committee suspending the plan. The plan could have moved forward at the same time as the the environmental survey, and not delayed. I sincerely hope that the government does not use the environmental issue as an excuse," Berkowitz said.