Two controversial construction projects in Pisgat Zev and Har Homa were approved
by an Interior Ministry Committee on Thursday evening, just hours before Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was set to leave for the United States to meet with
President Barack Obama.
The 1,550 units being discussed for approval by
the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee include 930 units for a
new neighborhood of Har Homa, called “Har Homa C,” and 625 units in Pisgat
For 2nd time this month, PM dodges J'lem housing
East Jerusalem construction projects taken off
They still face additional hurdles and approvals from the local
committee, and it could be years before construction begins.
discussion of the projects has been postponed a number of times, most recently
on May 5.
Indeed, hours before President Shimon Peres met with Obama in
Washington on May 3, the Prime Minister’s Office requested that the committee
remove the project from its agenda later that week. The move was interpreted as
a confidence-building gesture to the US.
On Thursday, the PMO gave the
green light for the committee to discuss the project, despite Netanyahu’s
imminent meeting with Obama. The projects were approved just an hour before
Obama’s speech about the Middle East.
Thursday’s approval of 1,550 units
just before a major US-America meeting eerily resembled the Ramat Shlomo fiasco
of March 2010, when 1,600 units were approved by the same committee during Vice
President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.
Biden saw the announcement as a
personal embarrassment, and it enraged American leaders, bringing
Israeli-American relationships to a new low.
Following the Ramat Shlomo
announcement, the PMO instituted “increased mechanisms” for oversight of the
Jerusalem District Construction and Planning Committee.
Ministry has six district committees that approve major construction projects
across Israel. The Jerusalem District is the only district that must submit
their agenda to the PMO’s office, who can then request that certain projects be
The PMO also asked construction projects in Ramot and Gilo be
removed from the agenda in April.
An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said
that the project passed initial approval more than a year ago, and the current
discussion is part of a process required by law that allows the public to raise
opposition to any construction project.
The subcommittee, which heard
public objections to the projects on Thursday, will require the Pisgat Zev plan
to rework the access routes to the project before approval, after residents
complained that traffic would increase dramatically.
She declined to
comment on why the PMO allowed this discussion to go forward after requesting it
be dropped from the last meeting.
“Netanyahu has decided he’s not
afraid,” said Hagit Ofran, a settlements expert with Peace Now. “His message is
that he wants Jerusalem out of negotiations, and that he is not going to
consider Jerusalem as part of the political dispute,” she said.
added that construction in Pisgat Zev is “less radioactive” than Har Homa,
because Har Homa was started after the Oslo Accords, and is seen by Palestinians
as an even more direct affront to negotiations. Still, the sheer size of both
projects made them controversial, she said.
The move of cancelling the
discussion before the Peres- Obama meeting – but allowing it before the
Netanyahu- Obama meeting – is “hard to understand,” said
“Netanyahu has had enough experience in the past two years to know
that any projects in east Jerusalem will cause problems if he allows them to
bring it up, especially today,” he said.