An Interior Ministry Committee gave initial approval to a new project with 1,100 housing units in the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, located over the 1967 Green Line.
The project, called the Southern Slopes of Gilo, raised strong condemnation from the Palestinian Authority, the UN and the US, just days after the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN drew the world’s attention to the region last week.
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PA spokesman Nabil Abu Radina told Ma’an News Agency the move was a unilateral effort on the part of the government to undermine Palestinian efforts to create a state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The US said Israel’s decision was “counterproductive.”
“We are deeply disappointed by this morning’s announcement by the government of Israel,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We consider this counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”
The PA Prime Minister’s Office also released a statement on the matter criticizing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for “creating pre-conditions on the ground,” despite Netanyahu’s call for renewed peace talks without preconditions.
Netanyahu called the Gilo project “nothing new” in an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week.
“We plan in Jerusalem. We build in Jerusalem. Period. The same way Israeli governments have been doing for 44 years, since the end of the 1967 war,” he said.
Robert Serry, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, expressed concerned about the project.
“Today’s decision by Israeli authorities to advance planning for a large number of new settlement units in east Jerusalem is very concerning, and ignores the Quartet’s appeal of last Friday to the parties to refrain from provocative actions,” he said. “This sends the wrong signal at this sensitive time.”
The initial approval from the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee means the public now has 60 days to file oppositions to the project.
Some Gilo residents are worried the neighborhood is growing too quickly and needs additional infrastructure, especially roads, before new apartment buildings.
Though the project will be built partially on the open areas of the Gilo forest, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said it is not opposed to the project because it understands the city needs to expand, said Avraham Shaked, the coordinator for the Jerusalem Hills area.
The project will include a promenade, school, commercial center, open areas, and public buildings.
Left-wing groups, including Peace Now and Ir Amim, slammed the project. Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran told the Post on Monday the project “continues with the policy of settlements, and gives the Palestinians a message that Israel is the one that doesn’t want peace.”Right-wing city councilor Elisha Peleg welcomed the project, saying Gilo is an inseparable part of Jerusalem, and the neighborhood is no different than Rehavia or Baka.
Gilo is one of the five ring neighborhoods in the capital that were developed immediately after the Six Day War.
Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post staff and Reuters contributed to this story.