E1 building projects delayed ahead of Obama visit

50 homes in Har Homa neighborhood, waste infrastructure for E1 dropped from agenda to avoid repeat of 2010 "Biden fiasco."

By MELANIE LIDMAN
March 13, 2013 22:40
2 minute read.
Har Homa neighborhood of Jerusalem

Har Homa neighborhood of Jerusalem 370. (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

 
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The Local Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee removed two controversial plans from its agenda on Wednesday so as not to cause friction when US President Barack Obama visits next week.

Jerusalem learned this lesson the hard way, when the Regional Committee gave initial approval to a project for 1,600 housing units in the northern Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, over the Green Line, during Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit in 2010. Biden was furious with the Netanyahu government and saw the approval as a personal insult.

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Since the “Biden fiasco,” the Prime Minister’s Office has instituted “increased mechanisms” to ensure that no controversial projects are approved while important dignitaries visit or ahead of major diplomatic events.

On Wednesday, the Local Committee was supposed to discuss a project for 50 homes in the southeastern Har Homa neighborhood, a controversial neighborhood because it is over the Green Line and was created after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. Additionally, the committee was expected to approve a sewage and waste infrastructure program for a neighborhood in E1, in the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, east of the capital.

On Thursday, the Regional Committee abruptly dropped an item from its agenda to advance plans for an Israel Defense Forces College on the Mount of Olives, which is also over the Green Line.

“The entire bureaucracy from the prime minister on down is in Obama-visit mode and they’re reliving the trauma of the Biden visit,” left-wing Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann said. “Regardless of what Netanyahu’s intentions are, the last thing he wants is a repeat of the Biden debacle.”

Seidemann added that the E1 waste disposal project would displace Beduin families.



Seidemann said the projects would be postponed until after the Obama visit and most likely be approved in several weeks. He called the postponements “cosmetic.”

A source in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the projects were postponed after it learned of them.

“There’s a panic from Obama’s visit, to my great sorrow.

I think [postponing the projects] broadcasts a message that we don’t have sovereignty there,” said Jerusalem City Councilor Yair Gabbai, who sits on both the local and regional planning committees. “If something is right and important, you can’t stop it just when there’s an important diplomat coming. Then there will be this diplomat and that diplomat and then Catherine Ashton from the EU and Catherine ‘Schmashton’ will come and then we can’t build Jerusalem at all,” he said. “It’s not the proper behavior for a state.”

The “increased mechanisms” that give the Prime Minister’s Office control over the approval process for construction in east Jerusalem, also work in the opposite direction.

After unilateral Palestinian steps at the United Nations General Assembly in November, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu worked to advance plans for the E1 project, one often considered “off-limits” because it could present significant challenges to a continuous Palestinian state.

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