Housing minister confirms East Jerusalem building freeze

‘The data speaks for itself,’ says Uri Ariel, pointing a finger at the Prime Minister’s Office

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)

Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) on Thursday confirmed that no new apartments or houses had been built in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem during 2013, saying it was a “very problematic” situation.

“The data speaks for itself,” the hawkish Ariel told Army Radio. “There is no building in East Jerusalem at the moment.” He added that questions on the issue should be directed to the Prime Minister’s Office.

A Monday report by Army Radio about the absence of construction projects in East Jerusalem since the beginning of this year prompted right-wing politicians to accuse the government of an unofficial construction freeze in the Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line.

Data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics showed that 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 during 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.

In the West Bank, on the other hand, Israel announced plans to go ahead with more than 1,000 settler homes.

Military spokesman Maj. Guy Inbar said on Thursday that plans were advanced to construct houses in the settlements of Itamar and Bruchin.

The plans still require official endorsement following public appeals. An anti-settlement activist, Hagit Ofran from Peace Now, estimates construction could begin in about a year, if approved.

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.”

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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