Jerusalem's mayor is moving ahead with a controversial plan to build a tourist park in Silwan, a mostly Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The plan includes demolishing 22 Arab homes in what Palestinians say is an effort by Israel to expand Jewish influence over the occupied eastern part of the city.
The decision by Jerusalem's planning committee to authorize the plan has raised tensions among East Jerusalem's Arab residents who accuse Israel of working to oust Palestinians and assert Jewish domination of the neighborhood.
The al-Bustan area of the Silwan neighborhood - known to Israelis as the King's Garden - is deeply significant to Jews, as it sits on the spot where tradition says the Biblical King David wrote his psalms. It is also home to hundreds of low-income Palestinian families who have in recent decades built homes - some without Israeli permits.
Mayor Nir Barkat's plan calls for the demolition of 22 out of 88 unlicensed homes in the occupied area.
Palestinians blast decision
Palestinian leaders on Monday blasted the Israeli decision. Hatem Abdel Kader is a senior official of the Fatah movement in Jerusalem. He warned that Palestinians would resist the demolition.
He warns Israel not to try to destroy the homes, and said demolition of the Palestinian houses will "have consequences at all levels."
Among those supporting the clearing of the area is Elisha Peleg, an Israeli member of the Jerusalem municipal planning committee.
"This is part of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is united and we have sovereignty on East Jerusalem like we have on the West neighborhoods," he said.
Peleg says he abstained from voting on Monday because he believes the authorities should demolish all 88 unlicensed homes, not just 22.
"Definitely we have to give services to the Arab legal residents of East Jerusalem. But first of we have to obey the law and the houses that have been built without building permits against the law and [for which] we have a destruction order from the court, we have to obey the orders and not let everybody build wherever they wish," Peleg said.
Source of friction
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordanian control in the 1967 Arab Israeli war, and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.
Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.
Jewish construction in East Jerusalem has been a source of friction between Israel and the Obama administration.
Monday's decision to demolish the homes comes two weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to go to Washington to meet with the U.S. president.