Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz should seize the opportunity to reevaluate a decision to turn an unimpressive area in East Jerusalem into a national park – which is aimed at preventing the expansion of adjacent Palestinian neighborhoods.

Haaretz Editorial | Oct. 2, 2013

Walking through the area designated for the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park in East Jerusalem, the question immediately arises: Why turn these unspectacular slopes into a national park? The answer was supplied last week by a staff member of the Nature and Parks Authority, who told visitors the main reason for the park’s establishment is to prevent construction. (Nir Hasson, September 30.)

Looking around, it’s easy to see whose construction the park is meant to prevent; to the south lies A-Tur, to the north, Issawiya. These two Palestinian neighborhoods, like most Arab neighborhoods, suffer from long-term neglect, overcrowding, absence of development plans, and illegal construction due to the fact that building permits simply aren’t granted.

Nature and Parks Authority officials say the purpose of the national park, like any other, is to prevent development and protect open space. Still, the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park has several unique characteristics: First, it is to be the most modest of all national parks in terms of valuable natural or archaeological elements worthy of protection. Second, the nature authority already made itself suspect in the eyes of Palestinians when its officials gave the name “They Won’t Know and Won’t Understand, 2012” to an operation to demolish residents’ houses and remove the rubble. Third, as opposed to other residential areas bordering national parks, Issawiya and A-Tur have no other option for development – the separation barrier, roads, Hebrew University and Jewish neighborhoods enclose it from all sides.

The residents prepared their own development plan that took into consideration their needs for expansion as well as the environment, but it was rejected by Israeli authorities in favor of the plan for the national park. It must be added that nobody dreamed of declaring the area a national park before the new road to Ma’aleh Adumim cut it in two.

Since 1967, Israel has expropriated more than 20,000 dunams of Palestinian land, a third of the land annexed to the city. It was used to construct tens of thousands of apartments in the Jewish neighborhoods fronting the city on the east. During this period not even one new Palestinian neighborhood was built, while no effort was spared to stifle development in the existing ones. The area allocated for the new national park is the proverbial poor man’s lamb. It must be planned for the residents’ benefit while respecting nature and scenery.

Former Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan was an avid supporter of the national park. Before the final determination is made, the current minister, Amir Peretz, has an opportunity to reevaluate the decision, only this time with the neighbors taken into consideration.