Despite international pressure, 900 new homes in Gilo are in the works

Planning meeting scheduled Wednesday for the most controversial of all the new housing proposals, in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim

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

A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in south Jerusalem, October 2, 2011. (Uri Lenz / Flash90)
A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in south Jerusalem, October 2, 2011. (Uri Lenz / Flash90)

While the international community continues to fume at Israel’s intention to build in the controversial E1 area in the West Bank between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, plans to construct hundreds of new homes in the capital’s Gilo neighborhood, also over the pre-1967 Green Line, are also moving ahead.

The Jerusalem Region Planning and Construction Committee will meet in two weeks’ time to review plans for 900 additional housing units in Gilo, Army Radio reported on Wednesday.

“This is just one plan in a series of projects that the government approved,” said committee member and Jerusalem city councilman Yair Gabai.

The plan was first announced in October and immediately drew condemnation from the international community. Gilo, built on land Israel captured during the Six Day War and subsequently annexed, is widely regarded overseas as an illegal settlement.

On Sunday the government announced plans to expand Jerusalem’s Givat Hamatos and Ramat Shlomo neighborhoods, that have a similar status to Gilo, and last Friday, a day after the UN voted to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status to nonmember observer state, a major construction project of 3,000 housing units in East Jerusalem was announced. Initial plans were also approved for building in the controversial E1 area that would link the capital to Ma’aleh Adumim.

The Civil Administration Planning Council, the body that oversees construction in the West Bank, was set to meet on Wednesday to review the E1 project. The hurriedly scheduled meeting of the council was a result of government pressure, apparently to demonstrate a determination to go ahead with the plan, the Army Radio report said.

The government, which announced some of the building plans as a response to the Palestinian Authority’s success at the UN General Assembly last Thursday, maintains that the construction projects are in accordance with Israel’s strategic interests and that it is within its rights to build there. At the same time, officials have said the E1 project is only at the preliminary stage.

Israeli ambassadors in several European countries and in Egypt have been summoned by their host countries in recent days to be rebuked for the building plans, and the US has led calls for Israel to reconsider. E1 is particularly controversial because Israeli building there could prevent a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and cut off the West Bank from East Jerusalem.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Wednesday the Palestinians are asking the Security Council to block construction because otherwise “the idea of peace … will disappear.”

He said the US must halt construction itself if it wants to avoid casting a veto at the council.

Several Israeli opposition figures, meanwhile, have slammed the government over the plans, and branded the flurry of announcements as counterproductive and as short-sighted electioneering by a government that wants to attract right-wing voters ahead of the January 22 elections.

Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Director, Hagit Ofran, told Army Radio Wednesday that the declarations were a sign of election panic.

“The unprecedented announcements of construction in settlement areas is not a punishment for the Palestinians but for Israel,” she said. “We don’t deserve to have the government of Israel turn us into a state that objects to peace and is isolated by the world.”

Following the initial announcement for the Gilo project in October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Jerusalem neighborhood and declared his determination to go ahead with the construction plan.

“Just as there is construction in every capital, in London, Paris, Washington and Moscow, Israel is building in Jerusalem,” he said at the time. “We have a link no less ancient and no less strong to our capital, and this is an understatement.”

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