Two J'lem-area construction projects win initial approval

Shortly before PM leaves for US, Interior Ministry C'tee approves 930 housing units in Har Homa, 625 units in Pisgat Zev.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
May 19, 2011 17:21
3 minute read.
Construction in Har Homa

Construction in Har Homa 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Two controversial construction projects in Pisgat Zev and Har Homa were approved by an Interior Ministry Committee on Thursday evening, just hours before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was set to leave for the United States to meet with President Barack Obama.

The 1,550 units being discussed for approval by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee include 930 units for a new neighborhood of Har Homa, called “Har Homa C,” and 625 units in Pisgat Zev.

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They still face additional hurdles and approvals from the local committee, and it could be years before construction begins.

The discussion of the projects has been postponed a number of times, most recently on May 5.

Indeed, hours before President Shimon Peres met with Obama in Washington on May 3, the Prime Minister’s Office requested that the committee remove the project from its agenda later that week. The move was interpreted as a confidence-building gesture to the US.

On Thursday, the PMO gave the green light for the committee to discuss the project, despite Netanyahu’s imminent meeting with Obama. The projects were approved just an hour before Obama’s speech about the Middle East.



Thursday’s approval of 1,550 units just before a major US-America meeting eerily resembled the Ramat Shlomo fiasco of March 2010, when 1,600 units were approved by the same committee during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.

Biden saw the announcement as a personal embarrassment, and it enraged American leaders, bringing Israeli-American relationships to a new low.

Following the Ramat Shlomo announcement, the PMO instituted “increased mechanisms” for oversight of the Jerusalem District Construction and Planning Committee.

The Interior Ministry has six district committees that approve major construction projects across Israel. The Jerusalem District is the only district that must submit their agenda to the PMO’s office, who can then request that certain projects be removed.

The PMO also asked construction projects in Ramot and Gilo be removed from the agenda in April.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said that the project passed initial approval more than a year ago, and the current discussion is part of a process required by law that allows the public to raise opposition to any construction project.

The subcommittee, which heard public objections to the projects on Thursday, will require the Pisgat Zev plan to rework the access routes to the project before approval, after residents complained that traffic would increase dramatically.

She declined to comment on why the PMO allowed this discussion to go forward after requesting it be dropped from the last meeting.

“Netanyahu has decided he’s not afraid,” said Hagit Ofran, a settlements expert with Peace Now. “His message is that he wants Jerusalem out of negotiations, and that he is not going to consider Jerusalem as part of the political dispute,” she said.

Ofran added that construction in Pisgat Zev is “less radioactive” than Har Homa, because Har Homa was started after the Oslo Accords, and is seen by Palestinians as an even more direct affront to negotiations. Still, the sheer size of both projects made them controversial, she said.

The move of cancelling the discussion before the Peres- Obama meeting – but allowing it before the Netanyahu- Obama meeting – is “hard to understand,” said Ofran.

“Netanyahu has had enough experience in the past two years to know that any projects in east Jerusalem will cause problems if he allows them to bring it up, especially today,” he said.

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