The planning policy in East Jerusalem since its annexation in 1967 is affected by political considerations and infected by systematic discrimination against the Palestinians living there. While extensive building and enormous budget allocations have been the rule in Jewish neighborhoods, the Israeli government has choked development and building for the Palestinian population.
In June 1967, Israel annexed 70,500 dunams [4 dunams = 1 acre] of East Jerusalem and the West Bank and incorporated them within Jerusalem's borders. From this annexed territory, Israel has expropriated about one-third of the annexed territory - 24,000 dunams - most of it privately-owned Arab property. Israel used this expropriated land for residential construction. By the end of 2001, 46,978 housing units had been built for Jews on this land, but not one unit for Palestinians who constitute one-third of the city's population.
At the same time, Israel choked construction in Palestinian neighborhoods and restricted new construction. Immediately upon annexation of East Jerusalem, and contrary to its actions in the rest of the West Bank, the Jordanian outline plans were nullified, thus creating a planning void that took a long time to fill. In the first decade following annexation, construction was only allowed ad hoc in a few areas in East Jerusalem.
Much land surrounding Palestinian villages and neighborhoods was expropriated to build Jewish neighborhoods, leaving no room for Palestinian construction. The Jerusalem Municipality did not establish outline plans for the Palestinian areas. The few plans that were approved were primarily intended to prevent new construction by declaring broad expanses of land as “green areas,” restricting the building percentages on the lots, and setting narrow borders.
In the early 1980s, the Jerusalem Municipality began to prepare outline plans for all the Palestinian neighborhoods. Most of the plans are complete, and others are in the process of planning and approval. The most conspicuous feature of these outline plans is the vast amount (some 40 percent) of area that is designated as “open landscape areas,” on which building is forbidden. In the plans that were approved prior to the end of 1999, only some 5,100 dunams (constituting 11 percent of the land in East Jerusalem, after the expropriation of 24,000 dunams mentioned above) were available for construction for the Palestinian population. As is the case with the demarcation plans existing in the West Bank, construction is allowed primarily in built-up areas.
The consequences of this policy are evident in Palestinian neighborhoods. For example, at the end of 2002, housing density in Arab neighborhoods was almost twice that of Jewish neighborhoods, 11.9 square meters per person compared to 23.8 square meters per person. The existing situation has forced many Palestinians to build homes without first obtaining a building permit. The Jerusalem Municipality enforces the building laws on Palestinians much more stringently than on the Jewish population, even though the number of violations is much higher in the Jewish neighborhoods.