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Ministry to advance approval of 6,500 e. J'lem units
By MELANIE LIDMAN
17/12/2012
After 3 years in limbo following diplomatic crises with US, 1,500 apartment units in Ramat Shlomo receive final approval.
 
Four days of marathon meetings by the Interior Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality’s planning committees, which began on Monday, are expected to advance approvals for almost 6,500 apartments over the pre-1967 Green Line.

After spending nearly three years in limbo for causing a major diplomatic crisis between the US and Israel, the 1,500 apartment units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo received final approval from the Interior Ministry on Monday. This means construction can begin in the coming year.

On Tuesday, the District Planning and Construction Committee will discuss stages B and C of Givat Hamatos, a new Jewish neighborhood located next to Beit Safafa. Stages B and C have a combined 1,363 apartment units.

On Wednesday, the Local Committee is expected to grant final approval to stage A of Givat Hamatos, with 2,610 units. On Thursday, the District Committee is expected to give final approval to the Slopes of Gilo South, with approximately 1,000 apartment units.

“The approval of this program is an important and positive step for the Interior Ministry, in order to improve the housing issue while simultaneously strengthening Jerusalem,” said Shas Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

The Palestinian Authority is planning to file a complaint against Israel with the UN Security Council over the new project.

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said the decision was a blatant challenge to the international community and a disregard for the feelings of the Palestinian people and Arab nations. Abu Rudaineh said the decision would further isolate Israel after the world rejected “occupation” and recognized the Palestinian state in the pre-1967 borders.

City Councilor Yair Gabai (Likud), who sits on both the local and district committees, also welcomed the wave of approvals.

“Prime Minister [Binyamin Netanyahu] stopped the discussion of these projects due to outside pressure from so many places,” Gabai said. “The moment Palestinians went to the UN and went unilaterally, the prime minister gave a green light to do all [of the building in east Jerusalem]. Everything was ready years ago, we were just waiting for a green light.”

Veteran left-wing activist Danny Seidemann put it bluntly: “Netanyahu is hemorrhaging settlements,” he said. “This is not tactical maneuvering – it’s a strategic thrust.”

“This is Netanyahu going to an end-game with massive settlement activity that will determine the borders of Jerusalem as he sees it,” said Seidemann. “By all empirical standards, never, ever, since 1967, has there been such a frenzy of settlement activity as there has been over the past month, and one is only beginning now to see the full thrust of this.”

Ramat Shlomo, one of the “ring neighborhoods” which include Pisgat Ze’ev, Ramot, Gilo and East Talpiot, is located over the pre-1967 Green Line, and left-wing leaders consider construction there to be controversial before a final-status agreement is reached.

Ramat Shlomo gained notoriety as part of the “Biden Fiasco,” when the project was approved for deposit during the US vice president’s visit to Israel in March 2010. Biden considered the partial approval a personal insult.

Following the incident, the Prime Minister’s Office instituted “increased mechanisms” to ensure the office is involved and updated on all east Jerusalem building projects.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to respond to questions over the large wave of approvals.

“These approvals are being done by relevant bodies,” said an official in the Prime Minister’s Office, who acknowledged that since the Biden incident it is much more involved in east Jerusalem construction. “This is the normal procedural process.”

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she was unaware of the latest settlement plans. But she stressed that “our policy on settlements remains unchanged and we make our views known to the Israelis at every opportunity.”

The US has long opposed settlement construction and other moves it sees as unilateral and not helpful in forming an Israeli- Palestinian peace deal.

She added, “We have to continue to keep trying. We have to continue to work with both sides to encourage them to avoid provocation, to create an atmosphere conducive to peace.”

Hilary Leila Krieger and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.
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