Panel expected to approve more East Jerusalem construction

Project in Givat Hamatos neighborhood to include up to 2,600 housing units; City Hall says half of units to go to Arab residents

An engineer surveys Har Homa. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
An engineer surveys Har Homa. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

A day after approving the construction of hundreds of East Jerusalem housing units, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee is due to begin deliberations on an additional building project beyond the Green Line Tuesday. The project is expected to be approved within a few days.

On Monday, the committee approved the construction of 1,500 apartment units in the largely ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, effectively unfreezing Jewish construction in the eastern part of the capital, a move that garnered condemnation by the US. The additional project, in the southern neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, could ultimately include up to 2,600 housing units.

According to Haaretz, the Givat Hamatos building would effectively link the neighborhoods of Gilo and Har Homa, create a block of Jewish residency beyond the Green Line and complicate future possibilities of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as their capital.

Sources in Jerusalem City Hall said on Monday that half of the construction in Givat Hamatos is intended for Arab residents of the adjacent neighborhood of Beit Safafa.

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Once a building plan is approved, a development tender is opened for bids by contractors, but construction itself could take years to commence. However, Army Radio on Tuesday reported that if the Givat Hamatos project is approved, construction on some of the units could begin within a few months.

The planning committee’s decisions to move forward with East Jerusalem construction fly in the face of US pressure on Israel not to develop Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line. The Ramat Shlomo neighborhood is a particularly sensitive subject as it touched off a diplomatic crisis with the US in 2010 when the ministry gave it preliminary approval during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

“What we have this week is a blitz of construction plans, promoted by the government,” said Aviv Tatarsky, head of Ir Amim, an NGO that focuses on Israeli-Palestinian issues in Jerusalem. “More massive construction, of course, makes dividing the city and reaching some sort of agreement with the Palestinians more complex and difficult,” he told Army Radio.

Jerusalem city council member Yair Gabai lauded the Givat Hamatos announcement. “Construction in Jerusalem ensures [Israeli] sovereignty over every part of the city, and the future of the younger generation which is going to settle there,” he told Army Radio.

Gabbai, who sits on the planning committee, added that in order to accommodate future growth, about 20,000 additional housing units must be built in Jerusalem.

The building announcements will likely anger the Palestinians and even Israeli allies who oppose settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, was subsequently annexed by Israel, a move not recognized internationally.

Last month the government set off a firestorm of international criticism after it approved several West Bank construction projects totaling some 3,000 homes, including building in the E1 corridor east of Jerusalem, following the United Nations General Assembly’s decision to recognize Palestine as a nonmember observer state.

Two weeks ago, US State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said that the US “opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations.”

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