Interior Ministry approves 930 new units in Har Homa

Ministry touts project as part of solution for lack of affordable housing; Peace Now: Gov't trying to score points with settlements policy.

Construction in Har Homa 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Construction in Har Homa 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A new neighborhood with 930 apartments in east Jerusalem was given the green light on Thursday.
Two years after it was first deposited for approval, the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee gave its final approval for Har Homa C, which is to be located on a hill adjacent to the existing Har Homa neighborhood in the capital’s southeast.
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In a nod to the tent-city housing protesters, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that 20 percent of the new apartments will be small ones destined to be more affordable for young couples. He added that he had instructed his office to promote projects that had a mix of large and small apartments, to address the lack of affordable housing.
“We are continuing to build in Jerusalem and in all of Israel,” Yishai said in a statement.
“The lack of real estate is severe and we will not stop projects.”
The Har Homa C project has come up for discussion a number of times in the past year, including twice in the spring, though each time it was delayed for political reasons.
It was delayed when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited London, and then again when President Shimon Peres met with President Barack Obama in Washington.
The moves were seen as confidence- building gestures designed to avoid a repetition of the Ramat Shlomo embarrassment of March 2010, when the Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction of 1,600 housing units in the northeastern neighborhood at the same time that US Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, which the Americans treated as a personal affront.
Even with the final approval from the Interior Ministry, it will be at least two years until construction begins on the Har Homa C apartments.
First, the state must publish tenders and approve a contractor, and all of the infrastructure must be laid for the new neighborhood, including roads, pipes and electrical wires.
Despite the ministry’s claim that the project would ease the housing shortage, leaders from across the spectrum dismissed the assertion that the approval was in any way spurred by the three-weeklong housing protests sweeping the country.
“It’s a shame it just happened now, it just goes to show that all the delays were just for show, because at the end they were going to approve them, so why not approve it half a year ago rather than now?” Jerusalem City Council member Elisha Peleg (Likud) asked.
“It’s important to release as much land as possible for building, without connection [to the protests]. We’ve known for years that there’s a housing lack. What, this is news? We need all of these protests to know there’s a housing shortage?” Peleg asked.
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Peace Now accused Yishai of “cynically exploiting the housing shortage to force young couples to move to settlements on economic grounds.”
“Just imagine if Netanyahu says, well, there are no apartments in Israel, so I have to go occupy Bethlehem? What’s the problem with building in Israel?” Peace Now’s settlement expert Hagit Ofran asked.
“I think that whoever is against the project is against it for ideological reasons, and they will be against it whether there is a lack of housing or not,” she said.
“The government is trying to score points with the policy of settlements.”
Ofran said that activists see Har Homa as one of the most controversial Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, because it was started after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and because it creates a barrier of Jewish homes between east Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods and Bethlehem.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office downplayed the significance of the Interior Ministry approval, saying “there is nothing new here,” and that this project has been in the works for some time.
“The prime minister never agreed to a construction freeze in Jerusalem,” the official said. “He has been above board about this.”
The official dismissed concerns that this would only harden the Palestinian resolve to ask the UN for statehood recognition in September, saying “I don’t see this as a factor in their decision.”
“No one was surprised by this, least of all the Palestinians,” the official said.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.