State Department condemns east Jerusalem building

US, Russia and France ask government to reconsider decision; US congressman: "Capital is not a settlement."

Ramat Shlomo construction 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Ramat Shlomo construction 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The US, Russia and France have condemned Israel’s plan to build 238 homes in two east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods, saying it runs counter to the peace process.
Russia and France have asked the government to reconsider the decision.
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The government, however, has stood firmly behind the Ministry of Construction and Housing’s publication on Thursday of tenders for 80 new homes in Ramot and 158 in Pisgat Ze’ev.
The Palestinian Authority has said that building in the settlements and in east Jerusalem must stop for the peace process to continue, while Israel has insisted that there is no reason why talks cannot move forward despite such building.
“In no way is this construction antithetical to a historic peace agreement with the Palestinians,” a government official told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.
The tenders are for construction in neighborhoods that every peace plan for the past 20 years has stated would remain part of Israel in a finalstatus agreement, the official said.
Although Israel froze new construction in West Bank settlements from November 26, 2009 through September 26 of this year, it has refused to consider a similar measure in east Jerusalem.
Continued construction in all parts of Jerusalem, has been a consistent government policy, about which “we have been frank and above board,” the official said.
“There is no policy change here. Even when there was a moratorium, it never included Jerusalem, the official said.
The US was informed of the new construction before Thursday’s publication of the tenders, which were included in a list of 4,000 new homes to be built nationwide.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Friday that in response the US told Israel, “We felt this was contrary to what we were trying to do, to get direct negotiations resumed.” He added that the US was “disappointed.”
The State Department and Israel have long been at odds over east Jerusalem construction, with Israel insisting that it has a right to build in the city which is its eternal capital.
Israeli and US officials held telephone conversations about the new construction over the weekend.
Meanwhile, US Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York), who chairs the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, issued a strong statement in defense of Israel on Friday, taking to task those who have equated the capital with West Bank settlements.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is not a settlement,” Ackerman told the press.
It has been “the singular geographic center of the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people for three millennia,” he said.
“Construction in Jerusalem is not a justification for a crisis, a showdown, a meltdown or even a hissy fit,” Ackerman said.
“Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev are going to be part of Israel in any conceivable final-status deal, and to pretend otherwise is pointless,” he said.
“Those who earlier complained about the inadequacy of Israel’s unilateral and uncompensated settlement freeze, who chose to waste those 10 months instead of diving aggressively into direct talks on peace, cannot reasonably now turn around and complain that the end of the freeze and the resumption of Israeli construction in Jerusalem... is either a shock or an insurmountable obstacle to peace,” Ackerman said.
Such construction “is neither a show of bad faith, nor a justification for avoiding negotiations aimed at achieving a final-status agreement.
“The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians are not going to be achieved by violence and they’re not going to be achieved by the equivalent of holding their breath until their lips turn blue,” he said.
“Direct negotiations are sole pathway to their goal, and the sooner they recognize this fact, the better,” he said.
Thursday’s announcement marked the first time since March that east Jerusalem tenders have been published.
According to Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, tenders for 377 housing units were published for the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Neveh Ya’acov on March 10, tenders for 48 were published for Pisgat Ze’ev on January 7, and another 150 in that same neighborhood on December 31, 2009.
Separately, in a move that deeply angered the US, the Interior Ministry’s District Committee for Planning and Construction in March approved a plan to build 1,600 homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, during a visit by US Vice President Joseph Biden. The announcement of the Ramat Shlomo plan caught the Prime Minister’s Office by surprise, and new mechanisms have since been put in place to ensure that the prime minister is kept abreast of east Jerusalem construction. No tenders have been issued yet for the Ramat Shlomo plan.
Right-wing politicians and activists have complained that a de facto freeze exists in east Jerusalem, an allegation that has been denied by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jerusalem Municipality.
According to Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon, the head of the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee, the 238 new homes for Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev are in projects that were begun in 2003 or even earlier.
It will be two to three years before construction begins on the projects, he said.
Kahlon denied that there was any political motivation behind the approvals, noting that the growing neighborhoods had asked for the new buildings years ago.
“We’re still going along with the status quo, like we’ve been doing for 40 years,” Kahlon told the Post.
These Jerusalem neighborhoods “are not settlements,” he said.
Kahlon noted that almost everyone agrees that Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev will remain a part of Israel in any peace agreement “Published tender” means that a construction project has passed the government’s lengthy approval process, and after a contractor is chosen, the project will be released back to the municipality for the final building permit, which enables contractors to begin construction. The list of published tenders is significant because it is one of the last steps in the approval process where the government can control what buildings are built in what areas. After the tender is published, the final approval rests with the municipality.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.