US irked as East Jerusalem housing plans move forward

State Department says approval for 181 homes in Gilo neighborhood risks ‘entrenching a one-state reality’

Homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo on December 17, 2015. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
Homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo on December 17, 2015. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

Israeli planning authorities issued building permits for 181 new homes in East Jerusalem Wednesday, drawing a harsh rebuke from the United States.

Jerusalem spokeswoman Brachie Sprung said plans in the Gilo area were first given the go-ahead in 2012 and that Wednesday’s approvals were for “technical details of plot distribution.”

Gilo is territory regarded by Israel as part of its capital city, but widely seen internationally as disputed land.

Sprung said that more detailed building permits will be required before the units are built. But the approval nonetheless raised hackles in the US State Department.

“We strongly oppose settlement activity,” spokesman John Kirby told reporters, accusing Israel of actions that “risk entrenching a one-state reality” and raise serious questions about the Jewish state’s commitment to a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.

A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in south Jerusalem, October 2, 2011. (photo credit: Uri Lenz / Flash90.)
A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in south Jerusalem, October 2, 2011. (photo credit: Uri Lenz / Flash90)

In October, the State Department lashed out at Israel for approving a new settlement in the West Bank soon after the US agreed to a $38 billion military aid package for Israel.

The Obama administration routinely and bitterly criticizes the Netanyahu government for building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, since it considers such construction to undermine efforts for a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Reports have indicated that Obama plans to ramp up pressure on Jerusalem over peace efforts in the closing months of his term, and after the US signed a $38 billion defense aid package with Israel.

In 2010, a major diplomatic rift was sparked when the Interior Ministry approved housing in the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, over the Green Line, while US Vice President Joe Biden was visiting.

Senior officials said the move was made without Netanyahu’s knowledge. According to a diplomatic cable leaked earlier this year, Netanyahu turned to European leaders to help patch up ties with Obama in the wake of the affair.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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