Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Construction Minister Yoav Gallant on Friday announced plans to construct 25,000 homes in the capital, with 15,000 beyond the Green Line, in contested neighborhoods including Ramot Shlomo, Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Yaakov and Atarot.
The announcement, which comes before next month’s Jerusalem Day, marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the capital, follows US President Donald Trump’s February request to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington to “hold back on settlements.”
During an Israel Radio interview, Gallant said the ministry has been working closely in coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality for the past two years on the controversial initiative.
“We will build 10,000 units in Jerusalem, and some 15,000 within the [extended] municipal boundaries of Jerusalem,” he said. “It will happen.”
Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, swiftly condemned the announcement as a violation of international law and “deliberate sabotage” of a two-state solution.
“All settlements in occupied Palestine are illegal under international law,” he said in a statement. “Palestine will continue to resort to international bodies to hold Israel, the occupation power, accountable for its grave violations of international law throughout occupied Palestine.”
According to Channel 2 News, a formal announcement confirming the project will be made during Jerusalem Day, on May 24.
Trump is expected to visit the capital to meet with Netanyahu a few days earlier. On Thursday, the US president told Reuters in an interview at the White House that he hoped a peace deal could be arranged.
“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” he said. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever.”
Trump is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on May 3.
In January, two days after Trump took office, Netanyahu said he was lifting restrictions on settlement construction in east Jerusalem, just as the city’s municipality approved building permits for hundreds of new homes.
During Barack Obama’s presidency, Netanyahu’s government came under repeated censure for building in settlements, which the previous US administration saw as an obstacle to peace, and resulted in a “defacto construction freeze.”
Trump tells Israel to 'hold back on settlements' during meeting with Netanyahu at White House on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)
Under Trump, Netanyahu expected more of a green light to ramp up settlement building, but it has not been as straightforward as anticipated, given Trump’s decidedly pro-Israel rhetoric on the campaign trail.
In December, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told The Jerusalem Post Magazine
that the municipality’s Local Committee for Building and Construction “has no line.”
“Everything that comes to the Local Committee, we approve,” he said. “On the District Committee, which is national, sometimes there are [barriers] for projects that are awaiting approval.”
“On the local side,” he continued, “I basically said to everyone: ‘I’m not ever going to stop building. No construction will be stopped by me as mayor... So, there is no line. Sometimes there are technical things, and things can move slower short term, but nothing more than that.”
The national committee, he lamented, presents far more obstacles.
“On the national side, unfortunately, there are some hiccups and delays that I believe are due to international pressure put on the prime minister and the national government,” he said.
“Hopefully, if we have the option to have that removed, it’s going to be very good for the city of Jerusalem. It’s going to release thousands of new construction opportunities that we have in the city.”
Reuters contributed to this report.