US says east Jerusalem housing plan 'calls into question Israel's commitment to peace'

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the step would also send a "troubling message" if the Israeli government proceeded with tenders and construction.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki (photo credit: REUTERS)
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The State Department accused Israel of acting against the peace process by “poisoning" the atmosphere with the Palestinians and moderate Arab countries, with its plans to build 2,610 new homes in Givat HaMatos in east Jerusalem.
“This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies; poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations; and call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington late Wednesday afternoon.
“This step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed with tenders or construction,” she said.
The US opposes Israeli building over the pre-1967 lines,  but rarely issues such a harsh condemnation.
Psaki response to Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’ statement that he had submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that set a timetable for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, did not illicit the same level of response.
“We’ve seen the text and have not had an opportunity to study it yet, so I can’t comment on the specifics,” she said.
Psaki added that the US believes “the preferred course of action is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly. And that’s something we’ve certainly communicated directly to the Palestinians as well.”
In Jerusalem plans are under way to build 2,610 new homes in Givat Hamatos, in an area of the city over the Green Line.
The Jerusalem Municipality gave its final approval to the project in December 2012 but it took almost two years to work out very technical details relating to the property, according to a city spokeswoman. As a result, news of the approval was only published in the local press on Wednesday, September 24. Such publication is the last step before tenders can be issued.
The September 24th publication was largely ignored until Wednesday, when Peace Now issued a report on the Givat HaMatos project hours before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama in the White House.
Building, however, can occur only once the municipality publishes tenders for the project, which is located near the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa. Both Givat Hamotos and Har Homa are located in an area of the city that the Palestinians assume will be part of their state in the future.
Peace Now, which opposes building over the pre-1967 lines, posted information about the Givat Hamatos building project on its website Wednesday afternoon, just a few hours before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama were scheduled to meet in the White House.
Netanyahu has always insisted that Israel has the right to build in its capital.
The municipality said that the project was designed so that half of the homes were for Jewish residents of the city and half for Arab residents.
The municipality spokesman noted that the plan was not a new one and that the publication of the approval was simply a "technical" step.
"New building is essential for the city's development for all the sectors. Building expands the city's stock of affordable homes so that it can attract young couples, students and other groups that will help the city flower and contribute to it culturally," the spokesman said.
But Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said that she didn't believe homes had been set aside for Arab residents of the city.
"It's just talk," she said. "They said the same thing about Har Homa during the planning phase," Ofran added. Lior Amihai of Peace Now said that the new neighborhood, located between Gilo and the industrial area of Talpiot, helped create a residential Jewish wedge between Jerusalem and the nearby Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
In a statement to the media, Peace Now said that "Givat Hamatos is destructive to the two-state solution."
It warned that it "divides the potential Palestinian state and blocks the possibility to connect the Palestinian neighborhoods in south Jerusalem with the future Palestinian state."
"Netanyahu continues his policy to destroy the possibility of a two-state solution. He is doing so in the West Bank, and he is doing so in east Jerusalem," it said.