British ambassador Matthew Gould took Israel to task Tuesday for announcing new
building projects beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem, but then retracted the
criticism after learning there had been no such declaration.
Gould, at a
briefing with journalists, said the announcement of new construction beyond the
Green Line was “unhelpful” on a day when Israeli and Palestinian officials were
meeting in Amman.
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“This is unhelpful and a disappointment to those who
want to see the sides turn a corner,” the ambassador said to the reporters, who
were unsure of what projects he was referring to. Gould said the announcement of
a new construction project in the settlements “took the shine off” the Amman
meeting between Yitzhak Molcho and Saeb Erekat.
The only problem is that
there was no announcement of a new construction project beyond the Green Line.
What there was, however, was publication by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) of
tenders for 312 housing units in Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa. These tenders were
already announced a week ago.
After his initial condemnation, Gould
clarified the matter and issued a statement saying that the Israeli government
“has made clear to us that there has been no new announcement of tenders for
building in east Jerusalem today, and that reports of such new tenders were
incorrect. This is a welcome reassurance.”
One official said this
incident reflects confusion over how the country’s planning process works, with
the same project – which must go through numerous steps on its way from initial
design to final approval – often being condemned at every new station along the
way as an “announcement of a new settlement project.”
A British embassy
representative said Gould based his initial condemnation on a statement put out
by Ir Amim, a left-wing NGO that monitors building in
According to that statement, “Today, January 3, as Israeli and
Palestinian representatives meet in Jordan at the behest of King Abdullah in
order to restart negotiations, the Israel Lands Authority published tenders for
312 units in east Jerusalem – in Har Homa B and Pisgat Ze’ev. The timing of this
notice is a slap in the face to Jordan...”
The tenders published by the
ILA represent the last step in the complicated approval process for construction
in Israel, which can take up to a decade to complete.
The Har Homa and
Pisgat Ze’ev projects have passed all of the approval steps from the Jerusalem
municipality and the Interior Ministry, and have already been condemned by many
in the international community.
After the ILA publishes these types of
tenders, different contracting companies submit bids to build the projects. In
special circumstances, including politically sensitive situations, the Prime
Minister’s Office can ask the ILA to halt the publication of a specific tender,
said ILA spokeswoman Ortal Tzabar.
Tzabar said there were instances in
the past when the Prime Minister’s Office has intervened to stop publicizing the
tenders, including in the Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhoods.
called Gould’s comments “cheeky,” and added that the ILA considers Har Homa and
Pisgat Ze’ev part of Jerusalem.
“There are people outside of Israel that
really don’t understand [the process], and just follow whatever the Arabs are
saying,” she said.