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(photo credit: AP [file])
The mayor of Ma'aleh Adumim, Benny Kashriel, on Sunday cast doubt on a commitment Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made in newspaper interviews last week to construct a controversial building project between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim within the next four years.
"Out of experience, I am wary of believing pre-elections declarations," Kashriel said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Olmert told the Post last week that he would go ahead with the contentious building plan within the next four years, if elected prime minister.
The long-planned construction of 3,650 housing units on the outskirts of the West Bank's largest settlement is part of a decade-old government proposal which will link the suburban Jerusalem settlement to the capital. It has been subject to fierce Palestinian and international condemnation, and to American resistance.
Supporters of the building plan say it will unquestionably strengthen Israel's control over Jerusalem, while Israeli and Palestinian critics of the move charge it will irreversibly hamper Palestinian territorial continuity on land they want for a future state in the West Bank.
Kashriel noted that before the last elections, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a similar pledge to build in the area, only to hold off on the plans during his time in office.
The mayor added that there were three additional steps needed before work on the plan could start, steps which could take years. These include submitting the building plans to authorities, approving the plans, and putting the plots of land up sale, he said.
"If he is really serious about building the area, then he should let us get started on the first step," he said, noting that Olmert had told him that he would only make a decision on the matter after the March 28 elections.
Olmert's pledges to build E1 within the next four years came six months after he became the first senior Israeli official to publicly confirm that Israel had frozen the controversial building plans in the wake of American pressure.
At the time, Olmert told the Post that Israel made the commitment to the Americans last year when final approval of the plan, known as E1, seemed imminent.
In the months since, Olmert's chief political rival, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly seized on the freeze on building to call into question the government's determination to strengthen both Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs, such as the nearby Ma'aleh Adumim.
Olmert's declarations were seen both as an effort to rebuff attacks from his main competitor and to court the centrist vote.
Ma'aleh Adumim has long been considered by most Israelis as one of several West Bank settlement blocs which will be incorporated into Israel as part of any final peace treaty or unilateral drawing of the country's borders.