The Jerusalem Local Building and Planning Committee gave initial approval to a plan for 942 homes in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is located across the 1967 Green Line.

The move came the day before President Shimon Peres was to meet with President Barack Obama, reminding many of the fiasco in March 2010 when the Interior Ministry approved 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, causing a crisis in Israeli- US relations.

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The Jerusalem Municipality denied that there was any political message in the timing of the discussion, adding that the project was being proposed by a private developer and the committee was required by law to discuss applications for proposed real estate projects.

“As a reminder, Jerusalem was united more than 40 years ago, and since then there has been no change in construction policy,” said a municipality spokeswoman. “The municipality is continuing to build for Arabs and Jews according to the Master Plan.”

The spokeswoman added that the Local Building and Planning Committee was also poised to approve dozens of houses in Arab neighborhoods, but would not specify how many or where the houses would be located.

Gilo is one of the five ring neighborhoods in Jerusalem that were developed immediately after the Six Day War. In a final-status agreement, such as one based on the Clinton Parameters that calls for predominantly Jewish areas to stay part of Israel, Gilo and the other ring neighborhoods are almost certain to stay part of Jerusalem.

City Council opposition head Pepe Alalu (Meretz), who sits on the committee, accused the municipality of proceeding “one-sidedly” in east Jerusalem.

“The moment that we sit and talk to eye-to-eye, I believe they will agree that these areas will be Jewish, but now they want it to be part of Palestinian state,” Alalu told the Post. “When there is an agreement, I think we’ll get to a point where we can build in Gilo, but we’re not there now.”

Peace Now drew parallels between the Gilo approval and the recent approvals for construction projects in several West Bank settlements.

“We see the progress as part of a bigger move that is being taken by the government that also includes projects in four settlements in the West Bank in the past four days,” said Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer.

The municipality was also set to discuss a separate project for 1,400 housing units in Gilo but it was taken off the agenda at the last minute, after the municipality said there were technical problems with the project.

The current project will expand Gilo in the direction of Beit Jala to the south and the Gilo forest to the west. Part of the land belongs to the Jewish National Fund, said Alalu. The rest is privately owned.

According to reports, the plan will encompass 88,000 square meters, and includes zoning for up to 300 additional units in the future.

The project must still pass the approval of the Interior Ministry’s District Planning and Construction Committee, and it will be years before construction could begin.

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