Boim: No plans to build in Atarot

Denial follows earlier talk of 'preliminary' construction check to ease housing crunch.

In a rapid about-face, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim said Thursday that Israel has no intention of building a new Jewish neighborhood in Atarot, despite the housing crunch facing city residents. Only a day earlier, Baum had announced the city had made a "preliminary check" of building at the site, drawing criticism both from Palestinians and the Prime Minister's Office. With limited city space left for construction as a result of political and environmental limitations, the Jerusalem Municipality was studying various building proposals in and around the city as it tried to alleviate a severe housing crisis in the capital, city officials said Thursday. The proposals, which were currently being formulated, were meant to serve as "practical options" to the nixed controversial Safdie westward expansion plan which would have seen the construction of 20,000 housing units on parkland and forest areas of Jerusalem, Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Yehoshua Pollack - who chairs the city's Local Planning and Construction Committee - said Thursday. According to Pollack, the long-term plans under deliberation do include the construction of 10,000 flats on the northern outskirts of the city near the closed Atarot airport in east Jerusalem, the construction of 2,000 additional apartment in the city's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, and expansion projects in the city's Ramot, Gilo, and Givat Hamatos neighborhoods, he said. But Boim clarified Thursday that there were no plans to build in Atarot, which lies within the city's expanded municipal lines but adjacent to Palestinian villages and the West Bank. Recent plans to construct more than 300 new flats in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, which have been approved by the city, set off a tempest, with Palestinians complaining to the American administration that Israel was undermining recently relaunched peace talks. The various city building plans come amid a severe housing crunch in the city, which is adversely affecting young couples who are increasingly leaving for better quality of life in the suburbs amid skyrocketing apartment prices in the city, and as Jerusalem is running out of new land to build on. "New building takes a long time," Pollack said. "We cannot be in a situation where we are not ready with some plans." The contentious Safdie building plan was rejected this year due to concerns that the project would irrevocably damage the Jerusalem landscape, following one of the biggest environmental struggles in the country in years. An alternate plan to build eastward to Ma'aleh Adumim has been frozen due to American opposition. Safdie has said that had the government approved an eastward expansion plan he never would have drawn up a proposal to expand Jerusalem to the west.