US pans expansion of Jerusalem's contested Jewish neighborhood of Gilo

November 3, 2016 13:27

181 residential units approved in capital's southwestern Gilo neighborhood.

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Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Nearly six weeks after abruptly postponing a municipal planning meeting to approve housing construction in Jerusalem’s contested Gilo neighborhood while the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama, the project was partially approved on Wednesday night.

Citing diplomatic delicacy at the time, Jerusalem’s Planning and Construction Committee’s Chairman Meir Turgeman said a brief moratorium was called on all politically-charged decisions to approve construction in Jewish communities beyond the Green Line.

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The September meeting was intended to discuss the construction of some 770 units in Gilo, although only 181 were approved on Wednesday.

In July, the US, EU and UN criticized Israel for building plans there as counterproductive to peace negotiations for a future Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem.

Wednesday’s approval was swiftly met with criticism by US State Department spokesman John Kirby, who has previously said the development “raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

“We strongly oppose settlement activity,” Kirby said of the latest approval.

An EU statement also said the decision to build in “the settlement of Gilo, built on occupied Palestinian land in east Jerusalem, undermines the viability of a two-state solution.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has repeatedly responded that the accusations are “baseless.”

“The suggestion that building in Gilo undermines the solution based on two-states for two peoples is factually baseless, and distracts from the real obstacle to peace – the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any borders.”

Gilo, with a population of 40,000, is not located in east Jerusalem, as is widely reported in the international press. Rather, it is situated in southwest Jerusalem, opposite Mount Gilo, within the municipal borders.

In a statement, the Jerusalem Municipality defended the expansion, noting that such approvals are necessary for the ongoing growth of the city, and are in no way confined to Jewish neighborhoods.

“We are promoting building plans for both Jews and Arabs,” the municipality said.

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