Joshua Mitnick
The Wall Street Journal
July 24, 2009 - 12:00am

An Israeli nonprofit said the city of Jerusalem and Israel's government are helping Jewish settler groups convert parts of an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem into a tourist park, fanning international concern over Israeli expansion into areas claimed by Palestinians as their future state.

Ir Amim, a Jerusalem-based group that describes itself as nonpartisan advocate for the city, issued its findings in a 47-page report Thursday. The group chronicled what it called "shady" efforts of the city of Jerusalem and six municipal agencies over two decades to gain control over parts of Silwan, a Palestinian village in East Jerusalem.

A municipal plan to demolish dozens of illegally built homes in Silwan -- a former Israeli seat of government -- is part of a larger campaign to link Jewish neighborhoods in the west of the city with settlements to the east, according to the report. That could jeopardize any future compromise to divide the city between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem municipality dismissed the report, saying it was filled with inaccuracies.

"There's nothing new in it. It's very, very inaccurate," Mayor Nir Barkat said.

Ir Amim said no one from the municipality challenged any of the report's specific allegations.

The report comes amid pressure from the Obama administration on Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Israelis had the right to build anywhere in the city. The statement came amid U.S. criticism of Jerusalem's approval of a building project in a predominantly Arab section of the city.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Sunday for further talks with Israel on resolving differences over President Barack Obama's demand for a settlement freeze. While Israel says it is considering limiting settlements in the West Bank, it considers East Jerusalem part of the city and isn't willing to negotiate a freeze.

On Thursday, France's foreign ministry summoned Israel's ambassador to called on Israel to halt settlement expansion, echoing a call made a day earlier by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


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