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US 'disappointed' by plans for 1,345 east J'lem homes
By BY JONAH MANDEL, TOVAH LAZAROF AND AP
08/11/2010
Announcement is "counter-productive to resumption of direct negotiations efforts between parties," PJ Crowley says.
 
The United States is “deeply disappointed” that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 homes in “sensitive areas” of east Jerusalem, the State Department spokesman said on Monday.

Referring to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, P.J. Crowley told reporters that the US views the announcement as “counter productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”

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“We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust, including in Jerusalem, and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,” Crowley said.

He added that the issue would be one of the talking points when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets in New York on Thursday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Israel has insisted that it has a right to build in all parts of Jerusalem, which it considers to be its united capitol.

Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt Jewish building in east Jerusalem, which they believe will be the capital of their future state.

The US and the international community have chastised Israel for its continued construction in east Jerusalem and have urged it to understand that such building negatively impacts the peace process.

The announcement that planning will go ahead for 1,025 housing units in Har Homa and 320 in Ramot comes when Netanyahu is in the US, where he is under pressure to halt settlement construction in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.

While the homes in question have not been fully authorized, they have been approved by the local and district planning committees, which operate under the auspices of the Interior Ministry.

On Friday, the plans were deposited for public review, and as part of that process they were published in local media outlets.

The public has 60 days to present objections, after which the plans return to the district level for modifications. After that they will return to the local level for the purpose of issuing building permits, after which construction may begin.

The process can take years. The 983 units in Har Homa C and 42 in Har Homa B received their first approval in 2008. Another 320 units planned for Ramot were also presented to the public.

Interior Ministry official Efrat Orbach said the plans had been approved six months ago, but that for unspecified “technical reasons” the ministry only recently made them public for the appeals process. She denied the timing had anything to do with Netanyahu’s US trip and said it would take years before construction would begin.

Sources in the regional committee for planning and building said that Netanyahu approved the plans for Pisgat Ze'ev and Har Homa some weeks ago, although they said he was not updated before the plans' publication, Army Radio reported.

Hagit Ofran, who head’s the Settlement Watch unit of Peace Now, called the timing “a calculated attempt by Netanyahu to torpedo peace talks and also avoid blame by forcing the Palestinians to be the ones to walk away from the negotiation table.”

Non-profit organization Ir Amim also weighed in, saying, “Once again the Israeli government is unilaterally dictating steps on the ground in east Jerusalem, which might eventually accumulate to a dramatic new reality, with severe implications regarding the political future of the city. We have no doubt that these implications did not escape the eyes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is visiting the United States now.”

The Jerusalem District Planning Committee on Monday also approved 32 new units in Pisgat Ze’ev. The next phase of that process is the public review, but it is unknown when that might happen.

“The District Planning Committee regularly receives plans for approval,” said a statement issued by the Jerusalem Municipality.

“Every request is debated as per the law¹s requirement solely from the planning aspect, as was in this case. The Jerusalem Municipality is continuing to build throughout the city for all the population.”

AP contributed to this report.

JPost.com staff contributed to this report.
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