UK envoy slams, retracts criticism of J'lem building

The only problem is that there was no new announcement of a new construction project beyond the Green Line.

UK Ambassador Matthew Gould 311 (photo credit: UK Embassy in Israel (YouTube))
UK Ambassador Matthew Gould 311
(photo credit: UK Embassy in Israel (YouTube))
British ambassador Matthew Gould took Israel to task Tuesday for announcing new building projects beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem, but then retracted the criticism after learning there had been no such declaration.
Gould, at a briefing with journalists, said the announcement of new construction beyond the Green Line was “unhelpful” on a day when Israeli and Palestinian officials were meeting in Amman.
RELATED:Tenders issued for 1,028 units beyond Green Line J’lem committee to discuss Silwan tourism center UK slams 'provocative' J'lem building plans “This is unhelpful and a disappointment to those who want to see the sides turn a corner,” the ambassador said to the reporters, who were unsure of what projects he was referring to. Gould said the announcement of a new construction project in the settlements “took the shine off” the Amman meeting between Yitzhak Molcho and Saeb Erekat.
The only problem is that there was no announcement of a new construction project beyond the Green Line. What there was, however, was publication by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) of tenders for 312 housing units in Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa. These tenders were already announced a week ago.
After his initial condemnation, Gould clarified the matter and issued a statement saying that the Israeli government “has made clear to us that there has been no new announcement of tenders for building in east Jerusalem today, and that reports of such new tenders were incorrect. This is a welcome reassurance.”
One official said this incident reflects confusion over how the country’s planning process works, with the same project – which must go through numerous steps on its way from initial design to final approval – often being condemned at every new station along the way as an “announcement of a new settlement project.”
A British embassy representative said Gould based his initial condemnation on a statement put out by Ir Amim, a left-wing NGO that monitors building in Jerusalem.
According to that statement, “Today, January 3, as Israeli and Palestinian representatives meet in Jordan at the behest of King Abdullah in order to restart negotiations, the Israel Lands Authority published tenders for 312 units in east Jerusalem – in Har Homa B and Pisgat Ze’ev. The timing of this notice is a slap in the face to Jordan...”
The tenders published by the ILA represent the last step in the complicated approval process for construction in Israel, which can take up to a decade to complete.
The Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev projects have passed all of the approval steps from the Jerusalem municipality and the Interior Ministry, and have already been condemned by many in the international community.
After the ILA publishes these types of tenders, different contracting companies submit bids to build the projects. In special circumstances, including politically sensitive situations, the Prime Minister’s Office can ask the ILA to halt the publication of a specific tender, said ILA spokeswoman Ortal Tzabar.
Tzabar said there were instances in the past when the Prime Minister’s Office has intervened to stop publicizing the tenders, including in the Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhoods.
Tzabar called Gould’s comments “cheeky,” and added that the ILA considers Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev part of Jerusalem.
“There are people outside of Israel that really don’t understand [the process], and just follow whatever the Arabs are saying,” she said.