Amid US, EU censure, new e. J'lem controversy brews

Interior Ministry committee advances controversial project to build 1,600 new housing units in e. J'lem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

Ramat Shlomo 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ramat Shlomo 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As condemnations of an Israeli settlement construction plan continued to pile on from Europe, Asia and the US, an Interior Ministry committee member announced Monday that he was planning to advance a controversial project to build 1,600 new housing units in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.
The Interior Ministry's District Planning and Construction Committee will discuss the project in just two weeks, according to Jerusalem deputy mayor Yossi Deitsch (UTJ), who told reporters he was pushing the project to show Jerusalem's sovereign right to build in the capital.
The project already became a major source of international controversy as part of the "Biden Fiasco," when the project was approved for deposit during the US vice president's visit to Israel in March 2010. Following the incident, the Prime Minister's Office instituted "increased mechanisms" to ensure they are involved and updated about all east Jerusalem building projects. The discussion is set for December 17 in the District Committee.
Ramat Shlomo is one of five Jerusalem ring neighborhoods, along with Gilo, Ramot, Pisgat Zev, and East Talpiyot, which are located across the 1967 Green Line. The District Planning and Construction Committee last discussed the project in August of 2011, during the height of the social justice tent protests, when Yishai trumpeted the project as a way to build affordable housing for young people.
Hagit Ofran, the head of the Settlement Watch Project at Peace Now, said the timing was part of the large settlement push with the announcement of the resumption of the approval process for E1. "The government is continuing to advance everything they can," said Ofran. "I don’t know what they’re thinking of themselves, but they’re doing everything they can to avoid a two-state solution."US issues 3rd, 4th censures of Jerusalem settlement plan
The United States on Monday issued its third and fourth consecutive condemnations of Israel's plan to expand settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, with officials from the White House and State Department calling the move "damaging" to the prospects of a two-state solution.
Israel approved the construction of 3,000 new housing units in Jerusalem and in the West Bank on Friday in response to the UN approving the Palestinian UN bid for non-member observer state status, government officials stated.
Click to enlarge image.
The inner cabinet also decided to give the go ahead for the planning of thousands of housing units in area E1 that connects Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.
In a statement by the US State Department, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said: "The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in east Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations."
He added: "This includes building in the E-1 area as this area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution."
Toner called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to "cease unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations."
White House spokesman Jay Carney also condemned the move, stating: "We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two state solution."
"We reiterate our long-standing opposition to Israeli settlement activity and east Jerusalem construction," he added.
The Monday statements came on the heels of a harsh condemnation issued by the White House, with spokesman Tommy Vietor calling the move "counterproductive" and saying it could make it harder to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Also Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Israel’s plans, saying, “These activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pushed back Monday against intense international pressure to reconsider the construction plans, with sources in his office saying no one should expect Israel to sit on its hands in light of Palestinian unilateral steps at the UN.
As one European country after the next called in Israel's ambassadors to protest the settlement plans, a source in the PMO issued a statement saying that Israel would "continue to stand up for its vital interests even in the face of international pressure."
"The Palestinian unilateral move at the UN is a blatant and fundamental violation of agreements to which the international community was a guarantor," the official said. "No one should be surprised that Israel is not sitting with its arms folded in response to the unilateral Palestinian steps."
Both France and Britain summoned the Israeli ambassadors to their countries on Monday to express disapproval over plans to expand West Bank settlements, as reports swirled that the two European countries were considering the harsher move of recalling their own ambassadors. The countries were joined by Spain, Sweden and Denmark, while Germany and Russia both urged Israel to reconsider its decision. Japan added its voice to the chorus of condemnation on Monday, saying that it "deeply deplores" Israel's decision and calling on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations.
The construction announcement also drew harsh condemnation from Israel's domestic Center-Left bloc, with politicians stating that the move would isolate Israel internationally.
Amnesty International on Monday also condemned the Israeli government's announcement to expand settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, calling on Israel to "immediately halt all construction."
Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program, stated: "Israel must immediately halt all construction of settlements and related infrastructure as a first step towards removing all settlers from the occupied territories."
Herb Keinon, Hilary Leila Krieger and Reuters contributed to this report