Construction in Gilo draws political condemnation

The building of 708 Jewish homes commenced this week in a forested area of the southern Jerusalem neighborhood.

Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Construction for 708 Jewish homes commenced this week in a forested area of the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is over the 1949 Armistice Line, drawing the ire of both Palestinian activists and environmentalists on Thursday.
According to Ir Amim, a left-wing NGO that focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem, government bulldozers have begun uprooting trees to make room for the homes approved by the Construction Ministry one year ago in the neighborhood’s northwest.
Arguing that last year’s announcement to build in Gilo while US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Israel helped derail peace talks, the NGO said this week’s groundbreaking proves that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no intention of agreeing to a two-state solution.
Meanwhile, east Jerusalem Portfolio holder and Meretz city councilman Dr. Meir Margalit described the timing of the construction, which coincides with the PA’s membership to the International Criminal Court, as ludicrous.
“To do this during this specific period, when the PA is going to the International Criminal Court in Geneva, proves that someone in the government is crazy to do this now,” said Margalit. “It will only add more motivation to present lawsuits against Israel.”
“The government never has good timing when it builds settlements,” he conceded. “But to do this when the PA enters the Criminal Court shows that they are completely out of touch.”
When the ministry announced the approval of the Gilo tenders last April, Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim, contended that the construction was intended to block the contiguity of a Palestinian state.
“The units are part of over 4,500 units approved since 2012, and if realized, tenders like this would cut off Bethlehem from east Jerusalem,” he said. “It’s not just building beyond the Green Line, this kind of construction dramatically changes the facts on the ground.”
The groundbreaking comes one week after the planned construction of some 1,500 apartments in the capital’s southeastern Har Homa neighborhood were frozen, and two days after preliminary plans for the construction of 2,200 Arab housing units in the capital’s southeastern Jebl Mukaber neighborhood were approved by the Interior Ministry’s District Planning and Building Committee.
Right-wing city councilman Arieh King condemned both the freeze and approved Arab expansion as a “de facto means” of changing demographic facts on the ground.
“When the government and municipality are approving thousands of apartments for Arabs, and at the same time are freezing new developments for Jews, what they are doing is changing the demographic status of Jerusalem,” he said earlier this week.
The Construction Ministry has repeatedly denied that the Gilo approval is politically motivated.

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