'Israel killing every opportunity to resume talks'

Chief Palestinian negotiator calls on US to blame Israel for collapse of peace talks after an announcement of plans to build 240 housing units.

By MELANIE LIDMAN, JPOST.COM STAFF
October 15, 2010 17:40
4 minute read.
Building at Beitar Illit settlement

311_Beitar Illit. (photo credit: Associated Press)

In a move that angered the Palestinians and is sure to draw international condemnation, the Ministry of Construction and Housing’s released a list of published tenders on Thursday that included 238 housing units over the Green Line in Jerusalem.

This is one of the most significant housing announcements for east Jerusalem since Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in March, when the Interior Ministry’s announcement of a 1,600-unit complex in Ramat Shlomo prompted international outcry, including strongly worded criticism from the United States.

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Following the Biden fiasco, the government enforced a “de-facto” freeze in east Jerusalem, severely restricting the number of projects that moved on to the next step of approval.

The announcement paved the way for 158 units in Ramot and 80 in Pisgat Zeev was part of an announcement of 4,000 units that the government is approving for construction.

According to Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon, the head of the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee, the projects in Ramot and Pisgat Zeev are from 2003 or even earlier, and this was

It will be between two to three years before construction begins on the projects, he said.

Kahlon denied that there was any political motivation behind the approval, noting that the growing neighborhoods had requested the new buildings years ago. “We’re still going along with the status quo, like we’ve been doing for 40 years,” Kahlon told the Post. “This is not settlements, this is something totally different.”

“Published tender” means that a construction project has passed the government’s lengthy approval process, and after a contractor is chosen, the project will be released back to the municipality for the final building permit, which enables contractors to begin construction. The list of published tenders is significant because it is one of the last steps in the approval process where the government can control what buildings are built in what areas. After the tender is published, the final approval rests with the municipality.

Palestinians reacted negatively to the Housing Ministry's announcement to build 240 housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods Pisgat Ze'ev and Ramot and accused Israel of attempting "to kill" any chance to reignite peace negotiations, AFP reported on Friday.

"We strongly condemn the decision," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP. "We call upon the US administration to hold the Israeli government responsible for the collapse of the negotiations and the peace process as a result of this government's insistence on killing every opportunity for resuming negotiations," Erekat said. The building decision was "a clear answer to all international efforts, particularly US efforts to resume negotiations."

“This is exactly the price we're paying for not reaching a political agreement sooner about Jerusalem,” said Orly Noy, spokeswoman for Ir Amim, a non-profit that advocates for a stable solution to Jerusalem. “If there was a political agreement, no one could criticize construction in Pisgat Ze’ev. “It's a pity to risk or undermine our international status because of something that could have been legalized years ago.”

Peace Now said that the newly announced plans will most likely further damage current peace negotiations. "The fact is that someone -- either the housing minister or the prime minister -- is trying to make a point: they want to make it harder on peace efforts," Peace Now's Hagit Ofran told AFP. "Such a decision is going to be a problem for the continuation of the talks and this is exactly what they were trying to achieve."

According to the report, of the 4,000 units, more than 1,100 units will be built in Netanya. Four-hundred-eighty will be built in Ashdod and 450 in Tel Aviv.

The Prime Minister's Office commented on the move stating that the decision came from Housing Minister Ariel Attias, Army Radio reported. According to the report, the PMO reiterated that there is currently no building moratorium in Jerusalem, only a delay by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to "prevent surprises by the sensitive timing, as in the past."

The US has been notified and objected the decision, but officials in Jerusalem said the protest was not active and Washington did not attempt to halt the decision in a drastic manner said the report.

Attias said that the Housing and Lands Authority continues to operate vigorously to minimize the demand and supply in the housing market, Israel Radio reported on Friday. The efforts have focused on removing building obstructions in the center of the country.

Both the Palestinian Authority and the US government have in the past criticized building plans in Pisgat Ze’ev.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.


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