Netanyahu said set to unfreeze thousands of E. Jerusalem units
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Netanyahu said set to unfreeze thousands of E. Jerusalem units

Likud and Jewish Home parties squabble over who initiated change in attitude toward construction in disputed areas of the city

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative image of construction of new apartment buildings in Har Homa in East Jerusalem, seen on October 28, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative image of construction of new apartment buildings in Har Homa in East Jerusalem, seen on October 28, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly instructed that plans for thousands of housing units in the capital, including many in East Jerusalem, be activated, ending a freeze that has lasted several months.

Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who also chairs the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee, told Channel 2 News on Wednesday that in a phone call with the government’s Jerusalem district planner, Dalia Zilber, he was told the plans should be approved immediately and put into action.

Turgeman said Zilber made it clear to him that the instructions were coming from Netanyahu. The report did not specify when the phone call took place.

“These thousands of housing units were frozen for many years. Jerusalem very much needs apartments,” Turgeman said. “It is unreasonable that in the era of the Trump administration, which says it has no problem with building in Jerusalem, there should be an order to not build.”

The report said the plans pertain to thousands of apartments planned for Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, such as Ramot, Pisgat Ze’ev, Har Homa and Gilo.

Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Meir Turgeman in Jerusalem. September 1, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Meir Turgeman (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Jerusalem Local Planning Committee will convene in the coming days to re-approve the construction plans, as some of the permits have expired since they were first issued, the report said.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report, which came as US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser Jared Kushner was in the region for talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Kushner has been tasked by the president with advancing peace efforts, and Wednesday’s meetings, which included a warm reception from Netanyahu at his Jerusalem office, marked his first solo foray in the region, after he accompanied Trump here last month.

News of the construction push sparked a spat between the Likud and Jewish Home parties, with both claiming credit for the development. First off the mark was the settlement-backing Jewish Home.

“We will continue to lead the government to a correct nationalist policy of building in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the fortification of security for Israel’s citizens,” the party said in a statement, using the biblical names for the West Bank regions.

“This is an important first stage and we congratulate the prime minister for unfreezing the construction in Jerusalem. We expect support for the unified Jerusalem law and a halt to the dangerous building plan to envelop Kfar Saba,” Jewish Home added, in an apparent reference to the recent spat over a security cabinet-approved plan to expand the Palestinian city of Qalqilya.

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, Jared Kushner left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on June 21, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom)
US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, Jared Kushner, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on June 21, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom)

“We will continue to be the nationalist backbone in the government,” Jewish Home vowed.

Netanyahu’s Likud party quickly responded, saying sarcastically, “Thanks to the Jewish Home for cheering from the stands.”

“The decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to build in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem was made, as usual, long before the Jewish Home decided to begin an unnecessary credit campaign,” the party said in a statement.

The Obama administration had placed significant pressure on Israel not to build in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel does not consider these neighborhoods to be settlements, as it annexed the area after capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War.

Yet the annexation has not been recognized by the international community, which generally says that the Jerusalem issue must be resolved in peace talks with the Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

 

US President Donald Trump (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

When they met in Washington in February, Trump asked Netanyahu to limit construction in the West Bank, and, in March, Israel agreed to self-imposed restrictions on new settlement construction in what was seen as a gesture to the administration after months-long negotiations between the two sides failed to yield any formal understanding on the matter.

However, the cabinet recently approved construction of the first new West Bank settlement in 25 years for the former residents of the dismantled illegal outpost of Amona.

Times of Israel staff and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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