The Jerusalem Local Planning Committee approved permits on Wednesday for 184 homes beyond the Green Line, 144 to be built in Har Homa and 40 in Pisgat Ze’ev.
In a statement issued by the municipality shortly after the approval, it categorically dismissed assertions that the move was meant as a provocation during already uneasy US-brokered peace negotiations, and noted that the land had been privately owned for years.
“These building permits were presented for approval at a meeting of the local planning and building committee by private entrepreneurs who bought the land several years ago upon completing the design phase [of the homes],” the statement read. “We strongly reject any attempt to stop the legitimate right of every resident to get a building permit in Jerusalem. New construction in Jerusalem is essential to the development of the city in all sectors, and for allowing young people and students to live here and afford to buy an apartment.”
The municipality added that it is legally forbidden to base any land ownership decisions based on any criteria other than “proprietary rights.”
“Each week, the Jerusalem Municipality grants building permits throughout the city for Jews and Arabs alike – regardless of religion, race or sex,” it stated. “It should be noted that the municipality has no legal right to intervene on the proprietary rights of residents who own land anywhere in the city, and checking the religion of a land is illegal in any civilized country.”
The government has long said that Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa will not be exchanged in any deal with the PLO.
Construction of the homes is expected to begin in the next few months, the municipality said.
Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim, an NGO dedicated to the establishment of an egalitarian Jerusalem, condemned the decision as a roadblock to peace.
“The big significance of these approvals is its blockage of a Palestinian state’s continuity,” Tatarsky said. “What we’re seeing is a consistent policy by the Israeli government and [Jerusalem] municipality to build beyond the Green Line in specific areas that create facts on the ground as far as continuity between the West Bank and Jerusalem is concerned.”
Moreover, Tatarsky said the approval is evidence that Israel does not truly support a two-state solution.
“If the Israeli government is not interested in a peace agreement, then this move makes perfect sense,” he said. “What we are seeing is how the peace process is allowing the opposite of its goal and purpose. As far as anyone who supports the two-state solution is concerned, this is a very negative development.”
The announcement came 48 hours after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas presented US President Barack Obama with a document claiming Israel had begun construction on 10,509 housing units in the West Bank since negotiations began in July.