Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, working in coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality, announced on Tuesday the approval of 500 housing units in the contested Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, located beyond the 1949 Armistice (Green) Line.
The move, which sets the stage for 1,000 additional Jewish-owned homes to be built there, follows a two year de facto freeze following a diplomatic row with the United States.
After the Municipality’s Local Committee on Planning and Building cancelled a meeting two weeks ago to approve the project, numerous reports surfaced claiming that a new construction freeze order had been applied unilaterally to Palestinian and Jewish homes.
At that time, following weeks of increased violence in the capital, Netanyahu was in the United States to meet with President Barack Obama in an effort repair badly frayed ties after Netanyahu’s vociferous condemnation of the Iran nuclear deal.
Despite the reports, the municipality claimed that construction would continue, unabated, throughout the capital.
Development plans for the sprawling residential Jewish complex in Ramat Shlomo has a contentious history.
The initial announcement of funding for the project by the Municipality’s Finance Committee during US Vice President Joe Biden’s 2010 visit to Israel, led to a major diplomatic crisis with Washington.
The plan was also condemned by governments and organizations around the world as a destabilizing factor for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. To ease tensions at the time, Netanyahu told Washington that construction in Ramat Shlomo would not begin for at least two years.
However, when the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee ratified the plan in June 2012, city councilman Yair Gabai, a member of the panel, praised the project as “the first in a series of essential developments that will add to the prosperity of Jerusalem, help curb emigration from the capital, and strengthen Israeli sovereignty in all parts of the city.”
At the same time, Hassan Abu Libda, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of national economy, denounced the move, calling it a “resumption of settlement activity.”
When the NIS 62.4 million infrastructure budget for the neighborhood was finally approved in 2013, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor and Finance Committee head David Hadari lauded the funding, deeming it “Jerusalem’s vaccination shot against those who think about dividing it somehow.”
In a statement at the time, the Jerusalem Municipality noted there has been no changes in its construction policy over the past four decades, adding that it would continue to “build in all of the city’s neighborhoods according to statutory plans” for both Jews and Arabs.
“In the coming years, tens of thousands of housing units will be built all over the city for all sectors,” the statement said. “New construction in Jerusalem is necessary for the development of the city, and in order to give young people and students the opportunity to live and buy houses in the capital.”
In May, the US and Peace Now roundly condemned the approval of 900 new homes there, which came shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finalized his new and narrowly formed right-wing coalition.
On Tuesday morning, Meir Turgeman, chairman of Jerusalem’s Local Committee for Planning and Building, told Army Radio he was working behind the scenes to garner approval for the additional 1,000 units.
“I decided to appeal to all parties in the Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration to ask for another 1,000 housing units for development,” Turgeman said.
In a joint statement, MKs Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) lauded the approval as a positive harbinger of things to come in the capital.
“We believe that this is the beginning of a change in government policy regarding the rights to build in the land of our forefathers,” they wrote.
Meanwhile, MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Camp) dismissed the announcement as a cynical and exploitative attempt to avert international condemnation while the world is preoccupied with the terrorist attacks in Paris.
“As always, [Netanyahu] uses cynicism... to pass the housing units under the radar,” he said in a statement. “Why thaw the construction in Ramat Shlomo? Because all the world powers are too busy with the murderous attacks in France to pay attention and denounce the move.”
Moreover, Bar-Lev contended that Netanyahu’s pledge to renew peace talks with the Palestinian Authority was a ruse.
“A few days after declaring to Obama that he is interested in the existence of unilateral steps, we learn exactly which type of action he meant,” he added.
By Daniel K. Eisenbud
Editor's note: This article has been edited from the source material
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