US calls new construction in J'lem 'counterproductive'

State Department: US "deeply disappointed" by "Southern Slopes of Gilo" housing plan, construction complicates resumption of peace talks.

Gilo neighborhood 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Gilo neighborhood 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
WASHINGTON - The United States said on Tuesday that Israel's decision to approve construction of 1,100 homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo - located past the Green Line - was "counterproductive" and urged both Israel and the Palestinians not to take steps which could complicate resumption of direct peace talks.
"We are deeply disappointed by this morning's announcement by the government of Israel," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
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"We consider this counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties and we have long urged both parties to avoid actions which could undermine trust, including in Jerusalem, and will continue to work with parties to try to resume direct negotiations."
An Interior Ministry Committee gave initial approval to a new project with 1,100 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is located over the 1967 Green Line. The project, called the Southern Slopes of Gilo, raised strong condemnation from the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations, just days after the Palestinian bid for statehood drew the world’s attention to the region last week.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Radina told Ma'an News Agency that the move was a unilateral effort on the part of the Israeli government to undermine Palestinian efforts to create a state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The PA Prime Minister's Office also released a statement on the matter, criticizing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for "creating pre-conditions on the ground," despite Netanyahu's call for renewed peace talks without pre-conditions.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the Gilo project “nothing new” in an interview with the Jerusalem Post this week. “We plan in Jerusalem. We build in Jerusalem. Period. The same way Israeli governments have been doing for 44 years, since the end of the 1967 war,” he said.
"Today's decision by Israeli authorities to advance planning for a large number of new settlement units in East Jerusalem is very concerning, and ignores the Quartet’s appeal of last Friday to the parties to refrain from provocative actions,” said the spokesman for Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. “This sends the wrong signal at this sensitive time.”
The initial approval from the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee means the public now has 60 days to file oppositions to the project. Some Gilo residents have expressed concern that the neighborhood is growing too quickly and needs additional infrastructure, especially roads, before new apartment buildings.
Though the project will be built partially on the open areas of the Gilo forest, the Society for the Protection of Nature said they are not opposed to the project because they understand that the city needs to expand, said Avraham Shaked, the coordinator for the Jerusalem Hills area.
The project will include a promenade, school, commercial center, open areas, and public buildings.
Left-wing groups, including Peace Now and Ir Amim, slammed the project. Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, of the Settlement Watch Team, told the Jerusalem Post on Monday that the project “continues with the policy of settlements, and gives the Palestinians a message that Israel is the one that doesn’t want peace,” she said.
Right-wing city councilor Elisha Peleg welcomed the project, and insisted that Gilo is an inseparable part of Jerusalem, and the neighborhood is no different than Rehavia or Baka.
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 likely to stay under Israeli sovereignty.
Herb Keinon and Staff contributed to this story