Amid a backdrop of increasingly contentious peace negotiations, the Jerusalem Municipality’s Committee for Planning and Building on Wednesday approved construction permits for more than 550 housing units to be constructed in three east Jerusalem settlements.
Of the 558 apartments approved to be built, 386 are planned for Har Homa, 136 for Neveh Ya’akov, and 36 in Pisgat Ze’ev. They will be housed in six-to-10 story residential buildings, the municipality said.
The municipality said in a statement the building permits were approved to private contractors several years ago.
“These are not new projects,” it wrote. “The approval today is part of the standardized municipal procedure for building development in the city.
The municipality added that new construction projects in all areas of the capital are essential for providing “affordable housing for young people and students,” and that the city would continue to build aggressively in the coming years.
Moreover, it asserted that there have been no changes in the capital’s construction policy over the past 40 years, with respect to building in accordance with its master plan.
“The city of Jerusalem consistently approves residential building permits for all residents – regardless of sex, race, religion, or any other indicator – as required by law,” the statement continued. “The only criteria by which building plans are approved consist of proof of land ownership, and that the planned structure aligns with the city’s master plan.”
As the population of Jerusalem continues to expand, the municipality said it will need to build “tens of thousands of new housing units throughout the city” to accommodate all sectors.
“New construction in Jerusalem, like in cities across the world, is a normal process needed to sustain the city’s growth and to allow young people and students to rent and purchase homes.”
It added that, in addition to giving permits for buildings in Jewish neighborhoods, it had also approved units in various of the capital’s Arab neighborhoods.
However, according to eastern Jerusalem portfolio head Dr. Meir Margalit (Meretz), the timing of the announcement was little more than a thinly veiled attempt by the government to derail the peace talks.
“My main problem is with the timing,” he said. “I don’t believe that several hundred units would be an obstacle to peace at a different time. The big problem is that the announcement was made during this specific period, when we are trying to come to a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”
Indeed, Margalit called the announcement a “clear provocation” that sends a self-defeating message to the global community.
“To make such a declaration on the same day the municipality demolished four homes in east Jerusalem – it’s a message to the United States and the world that we’re not interested in a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” he said.
Margalit continued, “The government must decide what’s more important: several hundred more houses in east Jerusalem or peace.”