An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man pushes a shopping cart past a construction site in Gilo, in December 2012.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama in New York City on Wednesday, the Jerusalem Municipality abruptly postponed planning meetings slated to approve expansions of contested Jewish neighborhoods.
While the municipality initially denied multiple reports that Wednesday’s meetings were intended to discuss construction approval in Gilo and Ramot, located beyond the pre-1967 Green Line, Jerusalem’s Planning and Construction Committee’s Chairman, Meir Turgeman, acknowledged that the meeting was postponed for two weeks.
Citing the diplomatic delicacy of Obama and Netanyahu’s meeting about resolving the conflict in Israel, Turgeman told Army Radio that a two-week moratorium was called on all politically-charged decisions to approve construction in Jewish communities beyond the Green Line.
Angered by the decision, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Dov Kalmanovitz accused City Hall of acquiescing to unjustified political pressure. In a subsequent statement, the municipality claimed the meeting was postponed due to “technical reasons.”
Army Radio reported on Wednesday that the allocation of 1.6 acres to build a new school in Ramot, which abuts the Palestinian neighborhood of Bir-Nabala, was approved on Tuesday by an Interior Ministry construction-planning committee, sparking a potential diplomatic row.
Considered an illegal settlement by much of the international community, critics claim Ramot, a primarily ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, would interfere with any proposed two-state solution.
The purported school is reportedly intended to alleviate overcrowding in Ramot’s school district.
A meeting to discuss the construction of some 770 units in Gilo was also postponed on Wednesday. In July, the US, EU and UN criticized Israel for building plans there as counterproductive to peace negotiations for a future Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem.
The US State Department criticism was especially harsh, with spokesman John Kirby saying that the US remains “troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”
An EU statement also said the decision to build in “the settlement of Gilo, built on occupied Palestinian land in east Jerusalem, undermines the viability of a two-state solution.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded that the accusations were “baseless.”
“The suggestion that building in Gilo undermines the solution based on two-states for two peoples is factually baseless, and distracts from the real obstacle to peace – the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any borders.”
Last week, Channel 2 reported that an Israeli government official, who requested not to be identified due to the delicacy of the issue, claimed that the imposed de-facto building freeze of Jewish communities beyond the Green Line has ended now that Obama is concluding his tenure as president.
Moreover, the official said the Israeli government would no longer delay ambitious construction plans in the east due to political pressure.Herb Keinon contributed to this report.