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Despite Sunday night’s announcement that Israel would halt a planned construction project in the capital’s northern Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, Mayor Nir Barkat declared on Monday morning that the advancement of municipal construction would in fact continue in all sections of Jerusalem, for both Jews and Arabs.
“The real test is the test of action,” Barkat said in a statement. “And the municipality will continue to promote construction throughout all parts of the city, for Jews and Arabs alike.”
He continued: “We expect that the Interior Ministry and the Housing Ministry will approve the plans and support our efforts to preserve the young population of Jerusalem – and help them deal with the severe housing crisis they face, in order to stop emigration from the city.”
“We trust that the prime minister will not allow a freeze to take hold in Jerusalem. Not in words and not in deeds,” he added.
Any construction over the Green Line, however, has the potential to derail recently renewed proximity talks with the Palestinians. An Interior Ministry committee’s approval of 1,600 housing units Ramat Shlomo in March led Palestinian negotiators to call off talks then, just days after they had been announced. The plans were also disclosed during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, leading to a diplomatic row with the Obama administration over construction in the capital’s eastern neighborhoods – all of which the US and the Palestinians have called to halt.
Yet the announcement of a freeze in Ramat Shlomo was received with varying responses by Knesset members on Monday, with Information and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein expressing a wait-and-see attitude toward the development.
“There’s not really anything new here,” Edelstein said. “When Biden was here, it was announced that the construction [in Ramat Shlomo] would take years to begin, and so in any case, work on the new housing units there won’t get off the ground for the next two or three years.”
He added, “I don’t think that we’re talking about something that can change the government’s consistent stance or the position of its leader – according to which construction in Jerusalem will continue, in all parts of the city.”
However, Edelstein added that without direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the chances of success were slim.
“[The Palestinians] are looking for excuses to blame Israel instead of trying to progress,” he said.
Meanwhile, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau, who is
currently on a Foreign Ministry-sponsored trip to Central America,
expressed his concern over the announcement of a halt to construction
in any neighborhood of the capital.
“I am not familiar with all the details, but if what I heard is true,
this is a serious error indeed,” Landau said from Costa Rica.
“I intend to say so to Netanyahu,” he continued. “And I will express the same opinion before the entire government.”
Landau is expected back in Israel later this week, according to his
aide, after concluding his visit in Costa Rica and meeting with
government representatives in Honduras.