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US ‘deeply concerned’ at new E. Jerusalem housing plan

Reaction comes after local planning committee approves 200 homes in the capital’s Ramot neighborhood

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

US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki (screen capture: YouTube)
US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki (screen capture: YouTube)

The US expressed its concern Wednesday that the approval by a local planning committee for 200 new homes in a Jerusalem neighborhood that lies in part over the Green Line will be an obstruction to peace.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the move in the Ramot neighborhood would further hinder efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution, Reuters reported.

“We are deeply concerned by this decision particularly given the tense situation in Jerusalem,” Psaki said during her daily press briefing. “Most importantly they are contrary to Israel’s own stated goal of achieving a two-state solution because they make it more difficult to do that.”

Brachie Sprung, a spokeswoman for the municipality, said the approval, by the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee, was just a preliminary stage of the planning process — meaning construction would be years away.

Sprung noted the committee also approved an additional 174 homes for construction in the capital’s Arab neighborhoods. The Israel National News site said the new Arab homes would be in Beit Safafa and Beit Hanina.

Although located in northwest Jerusalem, the Ramot neighborhood straddles the Green Line that marked Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries, which means some of its area is on land that the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.

The committee decision came shortly before US Secretary of State John Kerry was to arrive in neighboring Jordan on a mission aimed at restoring calm in the Holy Land after weeks of unrest.

The Hebrew-language NRG website reported that the planning committee decided to not review another controversial plan that calls for 8,000 apartments to be built in Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem. If approved the plan, that faces opposition from local residents, would double the size of the neighborhood.

Earlier this month the higher-level Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of 500 apartments in the capital’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, also over the Green Line in East Jerusalem. The US swiftly condemned the decision to go ahead with the project.

Any Israeli construction for Jewish areas of East Jerusalem risks setting off a diplomatic firestorm — especially in the current fragile environment.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and maintains that it is now part of the unified capital of Israel, a move that is not internationally recognized.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in the area and opposes settlement construction.

AP contributed to this report.

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