Amid heightened tensions between Jerusalem and Washington over the US’s abstention in last week’s UN Security Council resolution, the Jerusalem Municipality on Wednesday delayed approving hundreds of Jewish residential units beyond the 1949 Armistice Line, with one exception.
Just before US Secretary of State John Kerry’s scheduled speech about the Middle East, Jerusalem’s Local Committee for Building and Construction agreed to approve a four-story residential structure for Jewish families in east Jerusalem’s predominantly Arab Silwan neighborhood.
The vote was purportedly announced after the committee declined to approve the construction of 618 homes in Ramat Shlomo, Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev, allegedly at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to deescalate ongoing strains with the outgoing Obama Administration.
However, the Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on reports that Netanyahu intervened to have the plans removed from the agenda before Kerry’s speech.
Still, Netanyahu has told his cabinet minister that in the days remaining until US President Barack Obama leaves office, they should not do anything to give the Obama administration an excuse to push forward additional diplomatic steps against Israel.
The municipality’s District Zoning Committee also postponed discussions to approve 5,600 more residential units in Gilo, Ramot and Givat Hamatos.
The left-wing NGO Ir Amim, which opposes Israeli construction in territory where Palestinians seek to establish a state, said the approved residential structure would be erected on a vacant lot in the Palestinian neighborhood, where Jews have been expanding an enclave.
“Today, while attention has been focused on the removal of... building permits... the committee proceeded to approve a controversial project in one of the most flammable neighborhoods in east Jerusalem,” Ir Amim said in a statement shortly before Kerry’s speech.
Peace Now spokeswoman Anat Ben-Nun said on Wednesday that “the approval of a Jewish settlement in the heart of Silwan is meant to prevent the possibility for two capitals in Jerusalem.”
“By trying to avenge the UN Security Council’s resolution, Netanyahu is siding with the most extreme of settlers, harming the two-state solution and risking the future of Israel as Jewish and democratic,” Ben-Nun said.
In a Tuesday statement, the municipality contended that the resolution had no bearing on the city’s master plan for Jewish or Arab construction.
“The Jerusalem Municipality has not changed its stance that building in Jerusalem is necessary for the development of the city, and will continue to develop the capital according to zoning and building codes without prejudice, for the benefit of all residents,” the statement said. “Committee decisions will be published once finalized.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has repeatedly stated that he would never cease construction in the capital, despite ongoing international pressure.
“The Local Committee for Building and Construction has no line,” he said during an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post last month “Everything that comes to the Local Committee, we approve. On the District Committee, which is national, sometimes there are [barriers] for projects that are awaiting approval.”
Moreover, deeming the UN resolution further evidence that it is fundamentally biased against Israel, Barkat issued a blistering statement after the council demanded the immediate cessation of all construction in “occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem.”
“The UN has proven time and time again – through last month’s UNESCO resolution and this most recent Security Council vote – that it is biased against the Jewish state,” Barkat said, referring to the resolution denying Judaism’s link to the Temple Mount, its holiest site.
Barkat also took the outgoing Obama Administration to task for abstaining in the otherwise unanimous vote for “strengthening the voices that wish to delegitimize the Jewish connection to this land, and the eternal, indivisible capital of the Jewish people: Jerusalem.”
“The US decision to abstain from the UN Security Council vote has exposed the consistently failing strategy of the Obama Administration of harming its ally Israel, by strengthening its enemies,” Barkat said.Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report.