Panel approves 1,500 homes in East Jerusalem neighborhood

Move forward on project that sparked huge row with Biden in 2010 likely to again anger international community

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

An illustrative photo of workers building a home in East Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, June 2011. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of workers building a home in East Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, June 2011. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)

A planning committee approved the construction of 1,500 apartment units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo Monday, effectively unfreezing Jewish construction in the eastern part of the capital.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee’s decision to approve the plans came despite United States pressure not to develop the neighborhood, and ended a freeze on the project imposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The move also came a week after the European Union excoriated Israel for its settlement construction plans in the E1 corridor east of Jerusalem.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai lauded the committee’s move to approve building in the mostly ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. “The Interior Ministry will continue to act for the sake of increasing the supply of residential units to all of Jerusalem’s populations, and across the country. The plan’s approval is another significant and positive step by the ministry for improving the residential situation, while simultaneously strengthening the city of Jerusalem.”

The development plans for Ramat Shlomo were originally announced in March 2010 during a visit to Israel by American Vice President Joe Biden. The timing created a diplomatic tiff between the allies and Netanyahu froze the project as a means of calming tensions.

Now that the committee has approved the plans, a development tender could be opened for bids, but construction itself could take years to commence. The committee, part of the Interior Ministry, said the project still must go through additional planning stages.

The announcement will likely anger the Palestinians and even Israeli allies who oppose settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The committee is also expected to deliberate on development plans for the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, which, including the Ramat Shlomo plan, would involve the construction of a total of 5,285 new apartment units over the Green Line in the capital, Maariv reported. Sources in Jerusalem city hall told the paper that half of the construction in Givat Hamatos is intended for Arab residents of the adjacent neighborhood of Beit Safafa.

Last month the government approved several West Bank construction projects, including in the E1 corridor east of Jerusalem, following the United Nations General Assembly’s decision to recognize Palestine as a nonmember observer state.

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