Officials discuss Har Homa construction funds

Municipality and the Knesset committee meet over infrastructure for potential new housing units in east Jerusalem neighborhood.

July 1, 2013 01:00
3 minute read.
Construction in Jerusalem's Har Homa neighborhood

Settlement Construction 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Jerusalem Municipality will hold a meeting Monday with members of the Knesset Finance Committee to approve funding for infrastructure construction on previously approved housing tenders for 930 homes in the east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa.

Construction of the homes are part of a large-scale project approved in August 2011 to build roughly 1,000 units in the controversial area, for which tenders were issued in April 2012, according to the NGO Peace Now and Jerusalem city councilman Meir Margalit (Meretz).

The announcement drew a swift condemnation from the US State Department on Sunday, as “contrary to previous Israel commitments” while Secretary of State John Kerry visits the region to restart peace negotiations.

“The policy of ongoing construction in the settlements is unacceptable to us,” the State Department wrote in a statement. “Both sides must work to rebuild trust… and Israel must recognize that the policy of construction beyond the Green Line is harmful for peace.”

To assist the US in creating a calmer climate for renewed peace talks with Palestinian leadership, Israel has agreed to a “de facto freeze” on new tenders in West Bank settlements and Jewish east Jerusalem neighborhoods, which it has upheld.

However, no such freeze has been applied to previously approved building tenders, including Har Homa.

Indeed, Israel has refused to accede to Palestinian demands to halt all West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem as a precondition for resuming talks.

The Jerusalem Municipality issued a statement Sunday noting that approval for the units was given three years ago and that Monday’s meeting is a “standard procedure for all development projects.”

Referring to the timing of the meeting, which coincides with Kerry’s visit, it added that the municipality does not “coordinate their schedule with visiting political delegations.”

“Discussion on how to develop public land in Har Homa is neither dramatic nor new – it was established over three years ago, and it has nothing to do with the fact that [Kerry] is visiting Jerusalem this week,” the statement said. “This is a standard and automatic procedure that happens with every development project.”

The municipality did not directly address queries about the planned vote to allocate funds from the Construction and Housing Ministry’s budget to proceed with preliminary construction in Har Homa.

In its statement, it said that during Monday’s meeting the municipality and the Knesset Finance Committee will discuss over 130 items “pertaining to a variety of municipal-related issues,” including allocating funding for new classrooms for Arab students in east Jerusalem and “developing public and green spaces in the Har Homa neighborhood.”

Jerusalem city council member Elisha Peleg (Likud) said approval for the construction of the project proves that “the temporary freeze in construction beyond the Green Line is over,” according to Ma’ariv.

Peleg noted that past efforts to enforce construction freezes in east Jerusalem “does nothing” to aid peace talks with the Palestinian leadership and only exacerbates the present housing crisis in the region. Upon approving construction permits for 69 new homes in Har Homa on Wednesday – the day before Kerry arrived to Israel – the municipality emphasized that construction policy in Jerusalem has not changed in 40 years.

However, Peace Now claimed that the approvals in Har Homa, on the eve of Secretary Kerry’s visit, prove that a “freeze of tenders is not a freeze at all.”

“The true policy of the Israeli government is to continue to develop the settlements in east Jerusalem and in the West Bank,” it said.

The organization added that it was dubious that the de facto housing freeze, with respect to issuing new tenders for construction since January, is “indicative of a serious commitment by the Israeli government to go to peace.”

“The government is continuing to allow and promote the creation of facts on the ground which will be devastating for the two-state solution,” it said.

The municipality flatly denied Peace Now’s assertion, claiming new construction is essential for the city’s development by lowering costs for Jewish and Arab students and young adults alike.

“We continue to build in all city neighborhoods according to zoning plans for Jews and Arabs,” it said.

“In the coming years, we intend to build tens of thousands of homes throughout the city, for the different population sectors.”

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.

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