Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s decision late Wednesday night to approve
construction of 1,600 apartments in the northeast Jerusalem haredi neighborhood
of Ramat Shlomo infuriated the Palestinians and brought sharp condemnations from
At the beginning of next week, the Interior Ministry is
expecting to give the final approval to two additional projects in east
Jerusalem – 2,000 housing units in Givat Hamatos and 625 units in Pisgat Ze’ev,
Yishai’s spokesman Roei Lachmanovich said.
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European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Friday said she
"regrets" hearing of Eli Yishai's decision about the Ramat Shlomo
construction, saying that such moves threaten the two-state solution.
The EU official said in a statement that she deeply regrets receiving
"information of the publicly stated intention of the Israeli government
to continue settlement expansion in east Jerusalem," noting that the EU
has "repeatedly called on Israel to end all settlement activity."
Continued construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Ashton said,
"threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and undermines
ongoing efforts to resume negotiations."
Peace Now threatened to bring
Yishai to the High Court of Justice over his decision to give final approval to
the 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a project made famous because it received
initial approval during US Vice President Joe Biden’s March 2010
The announcement at the time of Biden’s visit poisoned the vice
president’s trip, led to a dressing down of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and touched off a low point in relations
between Jerusalem and the Obama administration.
A State Department
official, responding on Thursday to the announcement, said Washington believed
“Jerusalem is one of the final-status issues, and therefore the disposition of
Jerusalem should be decided by the parties in negotiations.
actions by the Israelis or Palestinians that appear to prejudice the outcome of
the negotiations are counterproductive,” the official said. “These types of
construction are illegitimate and not in the best interest of getting back to
The US reaction was mild compared to the statement put out
by UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry, who said he was “alarmed by the
“If confirmed, this provocative action undermines ongoing efforts by the international community to bring
the parties back to negotiations and shape a positive agenda for September,”
“This announcement comes only one week after a separate
decision by the government of Israel regarding the construction of additional
housing units in another settlement in east Jerusalem [Har Homa] which was
widely criticized by the international community.”
Serry said he “will
engage with Quartet partners on the issue.”
France was also quick to
condemn Yishai’s move, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying “settlements in
east Jerusalem, as in the West Bank, are illegal under international law,
regardless of the justifications, including their claimed response to
socioeconomic imperatives. This decision represents an additional obstacle to a
just and lasting peace in which Jerusalem must become the capital of both
states, Israel and Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority accused
the government of seeking to create facts on the ground ahead of a UN vote next
month on recognition of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas,
called upon the US and the EU to pressure the government to “stop this
Abbas’s Fatah faction accused Israel of waging a
“new aggression” on Palestinian territories by approving the projects in east
Jerusalem. It described the decision as a blow to the will of the international
community and the UN.
“We reject the policy of the Israeli occupation
government to solve its social and economic problems at the expense of the
Palestinians and their occupied territories,” Fatah said in a
“We are determined to defend the rights of our people and to
resist the occupation’s settler projects through legal means.”
negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the housing projects as a “war crime” and urged
US President Barack Obama to change his position against the PA’s statehood bid
at the UN.
“We condemn this action which is considered a war crime by the
1949 Geneva Conventions,” Erekat said.
He pointed out that the decision
was announced the day after Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had a
phone conversation. It was not immediately clear whether this issue was
discussed in that conversation, which both sides said dealt with a number of
“The only way to preserve the option of the two-state
solution – Palestine and Israel – is through the UN and that Palestine be
accepted as a member on the 1967 borders,” Erekat said. “Then the policy of
settlement construction and imposing dictates on us will become null and
Meanwhile, Jerusalem City Councilor Meir Margalit, who holds the
east Jerusalem portfolio, called Yishai “a terrorist.”
“To do this now,
when it’s so tense, and everyone is making such a big effort ahead of September,
throwing a bomb like this into the political situation really makes him a
terrorist,” Margalit said.
According to Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, the
Ramat Shlomo plan still needs to go through the remainder of the approval
process, which includes a two-month period for the public to present objections.
The project needs at least six months before it can receive Yishai’s final
approval, she told The Jerusalem Post
Yishai announced late
on Wednesday night that he had approved the 1,600 apartments as an answer to the
protests demanding more housing.
Lachmanovich said the minister’s primary
concern now was freeing up as much land as possible for construction.
dismissed the claim that the approval for apartments across the Green Line was
“People need to live. If there was room to build in Rehavia,
or in Nahlaot, we’d build there, but there’s no land for building,” he
He added that Yishai was working to approve as many projects as
possible, without regard to location in east or west Jerusalem or whether the
residents would be Jewish or Arab.
“If there was a project for Arabs in
east Jerusalem, we’d approve that too,” Lachmanovich said.
that while the Ramat Shlomo plan was part of the acceleration program to push
large housing projects quickly in order to ameliorate the housing shortage, by
law the public gets a two-month period to comment and raise
The project was deposited a week ago, the step before the
public comment period.
“They did make technical progress,” she said. “But
it still takes another half a year.”
Lachmanovich dismissed Peace Now’s
claims and said the group had an agenda it was trying to promote.
plan for Givat Hamatos has been in the approval process for many years, and is
currently involved in a long and complicated legal process to determine
ownership of the land.
The area in question is a patchwork quilt of
public and private land, and the “parcelization” process to determine who owns
what can take several years. However, if enough progress has been made in the
legal process, Yishai can give his final approval, which would be activated
pending the conclusion of parcelization.
The Pisgat Ze’ev project was
approved by the District Committee earlier this year and the final approval is a
regular part of the process.
Two weeks ago, a project for 930 units in
Har Homa C, the newest neighborhood of Har Homa, also located in east Jerusalem,
by the District Committee. International condemnation was muted and
delayed, with the US only expressing its disappointment three days later.JPost.com staff contributed to this report