Mt. of Olives east Jerusalem 248 88 AP.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Jerusalem Municipal Planning and Construction Committee approved plans for the construction of a new Jewish neighborhood in the city's north-east Shuafat neighborhood, Israel Radio reported on Wednesday.
According to the report, the recently approved project includes three five-story buildings, which could house some 50 Jewish families, while the entrance level would be designated for commerce.
The municipality noted in a statement that this new project was merely one among some 60 existent construction plans for the area, most of them intended for Arab residents.
Hadash chairman Muhammad Barakei blasted the decision, claiming that Israel was behaving "like a gang that robs in broad daylight," according to Channel 10.
"The behavior of the Netanyahu-Barak government in occupied east Jerusalem is like the behavior of a gang that robs in broad daylight," Barakei said.
"Everyday its different branches approve plans to settle gangs of settlers in the heart of occupied Jerusalem. These are not preconditions to negotiations, but rather heavy machinery that completely destructs any hope for agreement and peace. Apparently, this was decided with the complete approval of the Obama administration, which expresses its support by silence or shy condemnation," the Hadash MK reportedly stated.
A Tuesday report of a similar municipal decision to approve the construction of four new buildings in a Palestinian area on east Jerusalem's Mount of Olives caused the US to accuse Israel of hampering the peace process.
"We have noted that these types of announcements and activity harm peace efforts," a US State Department official told The Jerusalem Post.
Still, the harsh response was more measured than several previous US criticisms of plans to build in east Jerusalem.
The official added, "We believe it is important to resume negotiations between the parties in order to resolve all permanent-status issues, including Jerusalem."
The US and Egypt are both making intensive efforts to restart peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. As part of those efforts, US special envoy George Mitchell is expected to travel to the region soon.
Though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has curbed settlement construction in the West Bank, he has repeatedly said that Jerusalem is not covered by that policy. Still, the bulk of Israeli construction in east Jerusalem takes place in already established Jewish neighborhoods.
Washington sees moves like the Mount of Olives project as making it harder for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, but has also wanted to encourage Israel for the government's willingness to sit with the Palestinians, as well as its decision to impose a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction.
The PA on Tuesday harshly condemned the decision by the Jerusalem Municipal Planning and Construction Committee to build four residential buildings for 24 families next to the Beit Orot Yeshiva on the Mount of Olives.
The PA believes that this in effect creates a new Jewish neighborhood.
Senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the decision to build on the Mount of Olives "in the strongest possible terms."
He said that if the Israelis wanted to resume peace talks, "they must announce a total cessation of settlement activities" in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
A source in the Prime Minister's Office said that in Jerusalem, just "like in every Israeli city, the planning and zoning regulations are the prerogative of the municipal government, and it requires no involvement of the Prime Minister's Office."
Stephan Miller, spokesman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, downplayed the significance of the Mount of Olives decision. He told The Jerusalem Post that residential zoning for this area was approved in 1990, so Monday's decision was "nothing new."
The approval of projects such as this, Miller said, was a normal move in the life of a growing city such as Jerusalem. He added that the land was privately owned.
Another municipal spokesmen added that this specific plan had received its first approvals in 2003, but that construction was only authorized now. The decision was a professional one that was made based on the technical merits of the project, he said.
The Meretz faction of the Jerusalem Municipality has appealed the Planning and Construction Committee's decision.
Tovah Lazaroff and Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.