Ashton: New J'lem construction hinders EU peace efforts

ByREUTERS, MELANIE LIDMAN, , JPOST.COM STAFF
October 17, 2011 00:52

Givat Hamatos project for 2,610 apartments in east Jerusalem includes expansion of Arab extension of Beit Safafa neighborhood.

Catherine Ashton

Catherine Ashton (R) 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)

The European Union on Sunday criticized Israeli plans to construct a new neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

“These initiatives run contrary to the current EU and Quartet efforts to bring about the resumption of peace negotiations,” EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.



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The Givat Hamatos project, which is located over the 1967 Green Line, will include 2,600 new housing units.


On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Israeli plans to build more than 2,600 apartments in the new Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, over the 1967 Green Line as "unacceptable."


"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at continued efforts to advance planning for new Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem," Ban's press office said in a statement.

"Recent developments in this regard have been unacceptable, particularly as efforts are ongoing to resume (Israeli-Palestinian) negotiations, and run contrary to the Quartet's call on the parties to refrain from provocations," it said.

"The Secretary-General reiterates that settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the remainder of the West Bank is contrary to international law," the UN statement said, adding such activity "must cease."

The Palestinian Authority on Friday also slammed the decision to build more housing units.

"Israel's plan to build 2,610 housing units ... between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, makes a mockery of ... efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace," Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

The plan passed an important step in the approval process this week, in what activists are calling the most dramatic change in Jewish construction over the 1967 Green Line since the construction of Har Homa in late 1990s. The news of the major housing project, which will create a completely separate neighborhood between Beit Safafa and Har Homa, was largely ignored in the news of the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap deal.

Left-wing activists and politicians slammed the plan for a new neighborhood in east Jerusalem. “I think that this is a decisive massacre of the option of returning to negotiations with Palestinians,” said City Councilor Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio. “Givat Hamatos is different from other neighborhoods. Construction in neighborhoods already built doesn’t scare me, but this is only on paper and this is a totally new settlement,” he said.

The plan for a new neighborhood at Givat Hamatos has been in the works for years. The general construction plan for Givat Hamatos with 2,610 housing units was approved in September. At least some of the housing units will be reserved for an Arab extension of Beit Safafa.

However, the project’s approval in September did not raise any red flags since the land for the project has many different owners, including the Spanish government and the Latin Patriarch, said Margalit. Determining and reorganizing the ownership for building purposes is a complicated legal process called “reparcelization” that can take years, leading activists and politicians to focus their energies elsewhere.

The reparcelization plan was deposited for public review on Tuesday, which began a 60-day period for review during which the public can file oppositions to the project. With the deposit, the project is close to the end of the complicated approval process, and construction could begin as early as a year and a half from now.

Two weeks ago, the Quartet strongly denounced expansion plans for 1,100 new units in the Gilo neighborhood, which is also located across the Green Line. Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, who heads the Settlement Watch Team, called the Givat Hamatos plan “much more dramatic.” “It’s three times the size, and it’s a whole new neighborhood and a new footprint,” she said.

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