(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The US on Wednesday warned that approval of an initial plan to build 200 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot, over the 1967 Green Line, could be harmful to the peace process.
“We are deeply concerned by this decision particularly given the tense situation in Jerusalem,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Both the international community and the US are opposed to such building, Psaki said.
The US, she said, was concerned that it could “exacerbate the difficult situation on the ground.”
Such building, she said is “contrary to Israel’s own stated goal of achieving a two-state solution.”
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a senior aide to Abbas linked the building announcement to Thursday’s visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jordan.
“It looks like during every visit by Kerry to the region, [Israel] threatens to build new settler homes. This is a continuous escalation and contributes to a negative atmosphere.”
Wednesday’s approval of the Ramot project by the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee was just a preliminary stage of the planning process and would take years until construction began, according a Jerusalem Municipality official.
Radio reports said that city officials had approved additional 174 homes for construction in the east Jerusalem neighborhoods of Beit Safafa and Beit Hanina.
According to Jerusalem Municipality spokeswoman Brachie Sprung, the housing planned for the sprawling residential hillside complex at the northern edge of Jerusalem is preliminary, and still must undergo several more stages to garner official approval.
The land in question, she added, was purchased by a private contractor.
An Israeli official defended the project.
“This sort of thing is so routine,” he said. “Does anyone really believe that building in Ramot is an obstacle to peace?” Just last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “The neighborhoods where Jews live and where we are building have been in the hands of Israeli governments for the last 50 years.”
He added, “Everyone knows they will remain part of Israel in any peace arrangement.”
An official added that the Palestinians themselves have acknowledged this principle both privately and publicly.
“Jerusalem is a living city with real people,” the official said.
Stopping building in Jerusalem “is simply not feasible,” he added.
City Councilman Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem Portfolio, condemned the announcement as a provocation against Palestinians who hope to make east Jerusalem their future capital.
“I have a big problem with this, especially with the timing,” said Margalit on Wednesday evening. “Instead of making efforts to calm the situation, they are pouring more gasoline onto the fire to make more provocations not only against the Palestinians, but against the international community.”
Margalit said he was perplexed that the municipality chose such a explosive time in the capital to announce such a politically-charged development.
“It’s hard for me to understand why the municipality can’t wait for a better political situation and opportunity to do this,” he said. “I don’t care about these 200 houses because much bigger things are happening now, and this is a relatively small issue, but the timing shows that someone is interested in increasing the volatility.”Reuters contributed to this report.