Construction equipment arrived at the planned Givat Hamatos neighborhood of East Jerusalem on Sunday, in what was believed to be a precursor to building in the controvercial compound.
Channel 10 reported Sunday that heavy machinery and construction activity were noted in the area. A Jerusalem municipality council member, Arieh King, posted a video in Hebrew on Facebook on Sunday documenting the area and the machinery.
Some 1,600 new apartments are set to be built in the neighborhood, which is over the Green Line, in the south of the capital.
The construction plans were approved two years ago but suspended following tensions with the then-administration of president Barack Obama, a harsh critic of Israel’s building policy in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The 10-month-old administration of US President Donald Trump has proven much more tolerant of Israeli building plans in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in general, even as the president had asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “hold off” on such construction as Washington tries to find a path forward to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Earlier this year, the Housing Ministry was set to push forward with a massive plan that would add some 25,000 new homes to Jerusalem, including 15,000 units over the Green Line, in areas the Palestinians want for a state.
The 1,600 units in Givat Hamatos, a mostly empty hill that critics say could cut East Jerusalem off from neighboring Bethlehem, are part of the 15,000. Another 400 units are set to be approved for the neighborhood.
A Housing Ministry statement said that Housing Minister Yoav Galant “sees Givat Hamatos as a key, strategic point for Jerusalem’s security and intends to go forward with the necessary actions to ensure the construction in the neighborhood.”
The left-wing NGO Peace Now slammed the construction in Givat Hamatos and, in a statement, said that Netanyahu was intent on “destroying any chance of there ever being peace, or a two-state solution.”
As part of the Housing Ministry plan, more construction is expected in Atarot, currently an industrial area near Ramallah that is home to a small abandoned airport, which would see 10,000 homes built and marketed for ultra-Orthodox families.
A further 3,000 would be built in Ramat Shlomo, an existing ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the city’s north.
In 2010, a building plan for Ramat Shlomo was announced during a visit by US vice president Joe Biden, sparking a diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Washington.
In addition the plan includes 1,000 homes near Malha, 2,000 in Arnona and Ramat Rahel, and 7,000 in Ein Kerem and other parts of the western half of Jerusalem.
The proposal is one of the largest housing projects over the pre-1967 Green Line in recent years, a period when Israel faced significant international pressure to halt construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers it part of its undivided capital, does not regard building in the city as settlement activity and has said in maintains the right to build anywhere within municipal boundaries.