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(photo credit: Courtesy )
A letter sent earlier this month from Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias to Givat Ze’ev Local Council Head Yossi Avrahami is threatening to cause a diplomatic crisis.
The letter, which confirms that the ministry was in the process of authorizing plans for a new 800-unit neighborhood that would connect the urban settlement to Jerusalem, comes at a sensitive junction in Israel-US relations.
Construction and marketing of the units is several years off and the issuing of housing plans and construction permits requires the Defense Ministry’s authorization.
The letter, sent on April 3, states that in response to an earlier letter submitted by Avrahami asking to be updated regarding plans to build the new neighborhood, the minister had checked with the relevant parties at the ministry and could respond that the planning of the neighborhood, called Mataei Ofra, was included in the annual ministry work plan and would be advanced, subject to additional funding from the Finance Ministry.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post
, Avrahami said the letter states in black and white that the ministry was advancing planning of the neighborhood.
“Givat Ze’ev is in dire need of additional growth. In the past two or more years there has been no new construction and our population is desperate for housing units,” he said. “We have welcomed new residents in recent years and we welcome them warmly, but it is our sons and daughters who now have nowhere to live.”
About 11,200 people live in Givat Ze’ev.
Avrahami said that the recent dismantling of the IDF checkpoint at Ramot junction removed a psychological barrier between Jerusalem and Givat Ze’ev and that he hoped that the new neighborhood would remove the physical one, too.
“We are not like the other settlements. People who come to live here for the most part don’t do so for ideological reasons, but for the quality of life we offer,” he said.
Avrahami said he had received guarantees from a range of cabinet ministers, including Attias and Interior Minister Eli Yishai both of Shas, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, both of the Likud, all promising that Givat Ze’ev would share the same fate as Jerusalem. “Even [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu said that when he was her on a visit.”
Avrahami said the main obstacle for renewing building was Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Independence.
“Everybody who is connected to the settlements knows that Barak is enforcing a de facto construction freeze by refusing to sign off on housing plans or jurisdictional expansions. I only hope that there will be a strong lobby in the government and the Knesset that will help see the plans through,” Avrahami said. “It is incomprehensible to me that a Likud government that shares a consensus on Givat Ze’ev is allowing Barak to do what he’s doing. Netanyahu is being held captive by Barak.”
Avrahami added that he was aware and could even understand the international pressures facing the government on settlement construction, but that he felt that in the case of Givat Ze’ev, there was no question as to the need and justness of its expansion.
Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer criticized the government for “its continuing efforts to sabotage the two-state solution.”
“The government is not ceasing for a minute from its efforts to destroy
any chances of one day separating to two countries. They are trying to
create a situation in which there will be no way to partition off a
Palestinian state. The poor timing of this development creates severe
diplomatic damage, especially now,” Oppenheimer said. “The government
should focus on construction in areas within Israel that are not
controversial instead of advancing construction that will create
territorial continuity between Givat Ze’ev and Jerusalem.”
The Construction and Housing Ministry said there was no change to the
status quo. Spokesman Ariel Rosenberg said the planning for Givat Ze’ev
was part of ongoing planning similar to that taking place anywhere
around the country and did not represent a shift in policy.
“We have planned in the past and will continue planning in the future.
Creating housing plans is not like baking pitot. It takes seven years to
complete a plan, and our plans for Givat Ze’ev are part of our
long-term planning for the entire country. Everybody knows that we
conduct this sort of planning, even the Americans agree to it,”
Rosenberg said. “It’s not like we are getting ready to issue building
permits and market the land. The plans for the new neighborhood are
still only in the initial stages and there is no guarantee that it will
ever come to fruition.”
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