De facto building freeze takes hold in East Jerusalem

Capital’s deputy mayor says top government officials are preventing the municipality from advancing construction plans

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in south-western East Jerusalem, October 2, 2011. (photo credit: Uri Lenz / Flash90)
A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in south-western East Jerusalem, October 2, 2011. (photo credit: Uri Lenz / Flash90)

No new construction projects have been started in East Jerusalem since the beginning of 2013, Army Radio reported Monday, prompting right-wing politicians to accuse the government of an unofficial construction freeze in Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line.

Anonymous sources in the Housing Ministry, Israel Lands Authority and Jerusalem Municipality all blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for stopping various building and construction plans from moving forward, the report said.

Unnamed sources in the Housing Ministry, headed by Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party, told the radio station that there were “people in the Prime Minister’s Office” making sure projects in East Jerusalem were hindered from the get-go.

Data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics showed not a single new project was started or planned in the neighborhoods in question since the start of 2013, whereas a document on housing starts showed that building in the West Bank — excluding Jerusalem — jumped from 313 housing starts between January and March last year to 865 the same period this year.

The lack of construction in Jerusalem was “at the order of the prime minister,” MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) charged on Twitter shortly after the report aired. People who thought otherwise were “burying their heads in the sand,” he added.

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Last week MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) spoke from the Knesset’s podium and said there “is no decision, was no decision, and there won’t be a decision regarding a construction freeze in Jerusalem.”

However, Yoseph Deitch, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, told the radio station it was clear someone from up high was stopping things from moving forward in the Jewish neighborhoods.

“This government promised to lower the cost of housing,” he charged, “but it’s stopping us from marketing low-cost apartments in Gilo, Ramot and Har Homa.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry will land in Israel toward the end of the week for another round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to restart negotiations between the sides.

Palestinians have said they won’t return to the table unless construction by Israel beyond the Green Line is stopped altogether. The Israeli government, at least publicly, has refused to take such steps before negotiations start.

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