Ramat Shlomo building plan receives ‘technical’ nod

PA: This is breach of commitment given to US and EU.

By ABE SELIG, RON FRIEDMAN
June 16, 2010 04:30
3 minute read.
JERUSALEM’S RAMAT SHLOMO neighborhood.

Ramat Shlomo 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))

The Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee on Tuesday ratified an existing plan to build 1,600 housing units in the city’s northeastern Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.

When the plans were disclosed in March during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, they sparked a major row with the US regarding building rights in sections of the capital that are located over the Green Line. They were also seen as destabilizing the proximity talks now taking place between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

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It remained unclear on Tuesday evening whether the move, which the ministry said is merely a technical procedure regarding an already-approved housing plan, would reignite tensions with US officials, who were quick to voice their frustrations with the plan three months ago. Their strong criticism, together with pressure that followed the announcement, are believed to have been among the main factors that led to the “de-facto freeze” that has brought nearly all construction in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem to a standstill.

Nonetheless – and despite the Obama administration’s ongoing resistance to such construction – the planning committee convened on Tuesday and approved the Ramat Shlomo protocol, which effectively validates the building plan. The next phase in the long bureaucratic process will allow the public to register opposition to the plan, which could further delay the proceedings.

City Councilman Yair Gabai, who is a member of the committee, told reporters on Tuesday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had stalled further deliberations on the plan because of the presence in the region of US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, as per his role as mediator in the proximity talks. He added that the prime minister had been wary of “an additional crisis with the US.” Netanyahu told the US during the March crisis that despite the approval of the plan, the building would not begin for at least two years Gabai praised the plan as “the first in a series of essential developments that will add to the prosperity of Jerusalem, help curb emigration from the capital, and strengthen Israeli sovereignty in all parts of the city.”

But PA Minister of National Economy Hassan Abu Libda told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he saw the development as a resumption of settlement activity.

“This is a breach of a commitment that was given to the United States and the Quartet and the International community to place a moratorium on settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem for 10 months,” Abu Libda said. “This is a direct breach and this is a very serious punch to the proximity talks.”

The minister added that such actions were making it “more and more difficult” for the PA to convince its constituency that the proximity talks would bear fruit.

“I believe the issue of settlement activities is very, very serious,” he said. “On the Israeli side it may satisfy I don’t know how many settlers, but on the Palestinian side it is undermining, in a strategic way, the ability of the PA to represent the interests of the Palestinian people, and the PA will not be able to continue business as usual.”

Abu Libda stressed that the PA “condemn[ed]” the development.

“We think it is counterproductive and contrary to the interests of the two peoples,” he said, “and is going to harm the possibility of creating the required constructive environment to rebuild any kind of trust that will enable the resumption of direct talks.”


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