The Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem district planning and building committee provided “procedural approval” for the construction of 200 Jewish homes on Sheikh Jarrah Street in east Jerusalem three weeks ago, a member of the committee told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
If it went ahead, the housing project, which reportedly received initial approval a year ago, would be situated near the Shephard Hotel, a building that is slated for demolition after the Jerusalem Municipality provided final approval earlier this month for the construction of 20 Jewish homes in its place.
District planning committee member Yair Gabai confirmed that procedural approval was given three weeks ago, but stressed that the development was far from receiving a final go-ahead. It still has to go to the Jerusalem Municipality and pass through several layers of bureaucratic approvals before it could be implemented, he said.
Hagit Ofran, of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, told the Post that the proposal had been “revived unexpectedly.”
Ofran said the development would “only add to the lack of confidence and increase anger among all those who are working for peace.
“Arab homes would have to be destroyed if the plan went ahead,” she continued.
The property is owned by Jews, but Arab tenants currently living on the site have received a protected status, which means the land’s owners would have to locate alternative housing for them if they proceeded with the construction of the 200 housing units, Ofran said.
“I thought this plan was discarded in May. I was very surprised to see it reappear three weeks ago,” she said. “A decision was made to put this program back on track.
“I think this is an opportunity for [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu to learn what is required of him if he really seeks peace. He must ensure that these plans are stopped,” she said.
An Interior Ministry spokeswoman denied that any approval of any kind had been given for the project.
Channel 10 reported on Wednesday evening that the latest proposed housing project would spread out over 45,000 square meters.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has ordered the district planning committee to freeze deliberations over all proposals for future construction projects in the capital, Gabai said.
The district committee is the highest authority within the complex chain of bureaucratic bodies tasked with approving construction in Jerusalem, and has the power to provide the initial and most important okay for building proposals.
“We have received an order from the prime minister telling us to stop approving any new plan,” Gabai said. “It’s a regretful decision, but I believe it is a temporary measure.”
The Interior Ministry said Netanyahu ordered the freeze to continue until a new board was set up, tasked with coordinating building plans in Jerusalem with the government.
Gabai said he could not estimate how many east Jerusalem building proposals were up for discussion by the committee. “We do not divide projects by locations. All plans have been stopped for the whole of the city,” he said.
He blasted the decision, and warned that it would inflate housing prices in the capital.
“Every delay in housing plans will raise prices for young couples
seeking to own their own homes. Contractors who purchased properties
will be forced to pay interest to banks as they wait for approval, and
they in turn will charge higher prices for housing developments,” Gabai
“We have taken two steps backwards on affordable housing in Jerusalem.
This will also have a negative affect in demographic terms, since
certain elements do not respect planning laws and construct homes
illegally,” Gabai said, referring to Arab construction in east
“The solution is very simple, and it is that the prime minister should
grow a backbone. Relations with the US are not based on construction in
Jerusalem,” he said.