JERUSALEM — The international furor over expanding Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory took a new turn with the proposed construction of an Olive Garden in the disputed zone. Ancillary to the 3,000 new homes being built in East Jerusalem, the restaurant will be positioned between the Zayem and Maaleh Adumim settlements.
It will be a strategic move for the popular restaurant chain, whose brand is largely unrepresented outside the United States. Due to limited space, several other restaurants had bid for the spot before officials finally agreed upon having an Olive Garden. Ultimately, the decision lay in the hands of the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
“After conducting a questionnaire, we have concluded that nobody hates Italians. As such, it can be considered a neutral foodstuff. And the name will remind everybody of the olive groves that used to grow here, which we think will be integral to the healing process. The brand would be in keeping with the area’s rustic aesthetic,” a COGAT spokesperson announced Monday.
The building will be situated at the bottleneck of two security grids, doubling as a secured checkpoint between them. Its two entrances will only be accessible from Israeli-controlled territory, though panels of explosive-resistant plexiglass will overlook the charming groves still remaining on either side in the northern and southern hills. A Tuscan-inspired façade will be reinforced with several feet of concrete, making it the second-most heavily fortified Olive Garden to date.
The chain’s parent, Darden Restaurants, Inc., is optimistic about the move. “Our company understands the risks involved with opening a location in East Jerusalem, especially under the circumstances. But we are counting on the high pedestrian traffic to make the extra security arrangements economically viable.”
While officially Fatah condemns the action, in private reactions remain mixed. Says one unnamed councilor from nearby Abu Dis, “I don’t know how to feel about this. Everybody likes Olive Garden. I am just hoping that more locations will begin opening on our side of the barrier.”
Or as one Jericho man more enthusiastically put it, “All you can eat pasta bar for only twenty-five sheqels? This has made me rethink the whole two-nation solution.”
The UN has yet to issue a statement.