A crane is seen next to Har Homa in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Defying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s preelection declaration that building in the capital would continue unabated, the Jerusalem Municipality on Wednesday stated that the planned construction of some 1,500 apartments in the capital’s southeastern Har Homa neighborhood has been frozen.
While no rationale for the freeze was provided, the municipality issued a brief statement Wednesday afternoon saying that the plan has been “dropped from the agenda of the Interior Ministry’s local planning committee.” It remains unclear if, or when, the contentious project will be resumed.
The development occurs amid heightened tensions between Netanyahu and the Obama administration, which has fiercely criticized his election campaign rhetoric that a Palestinian state would not be created under his tenure. Some speculate that the construction freeze is an attempt to improve foundering diplomatic relations.
Wednesday’s development stands in stark contrast to Netanyahu’s declaration while visiting Har Homa the day before this month’s election that building there is “a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem.”
“This neighborhood – exactly because it stops the continuation of the Palestinians – I saw the potential was really great,” he said. “We will continue to build in Jerusalem. We will add thousands of residential units and withstand all the [international] pressure, as we continue to develop our eternal capital.”
The Prime Minister’s Office said in response, “The program for Homat Shmuel [Har Homa] was not passed on to the Prime Minister’s Office.”
It added that the rest of the construction plans, which the Interior Ministry had been slated to discuss, would be taken up after the new government is formed.
The decision also constitutes a major reversal by the municipality, which in December said it was investing NIS 50 million in the development of Har Homa.
According to the municipality, which worked in coordination with the Construction Ministry, the funds were to be allocated toward improving the neighborhood’s infrastructure, including roads, sidewalks, parks, children’s playgrounds, sporting areas, and street lighting.
Meanwhile, Dr. Meir Margalit, a Meretz city councilman who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio in the municipality, said on Wednesday that he hopes Netanyahu actually goes through with the construction plan, to serve as a harbinger of his new government’s true intentions.
“This is the best way to show the Americans and Europeans how dangerous his next government is, and will convince them to put sanctions on Israel in order to stop his policies,” said Margalit. “Maybe this will convince the Obama administration that the time has come to pressure [Netanyahu’s government] to put an end to this occupation.”JTA contributed to this report.