Construction on luxurious Pisgat Ze'ev apartments to begin in coming months

ILA announcement ends rumors that project was frozen due to American pressure.

pisgat zeev 248.88 check caption (photo credit: AP)
pisgat zeev 248.88 check caption
(photo credit: AP)
New apartments set to be built in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev will be larger and more expensive than existing housing units in the area, and while the project is only in the preliminary planning stages - construction is expected to begin within the next three months - eager buyers are already lining up. "There's an enormous demand for these apartments, and they haven't even started building them yet," said a spokesman for Dona Engineering and Construction Ltd., one of the three construction firms that were selected as final bidders for the highly-coveted plots of land. "Our plot will include 46 apartments, mainly between five and six rooms - for families - but others will have more units and even cottages." The spokesman also explained that because the apartments were newer and larger, they would likely sell for higher prices than other apartments in the area. "We don't have exact figures yet," he said. "But it will definitely be more than NIS 10,000 per meter." "And it's not just buyers who are so interested in this property," he added. "Many contractors were also extremely interested in the land because there's such a lack of apartments in Jerusalem, and Pisgat Ze'ev is such a desirable place to live." The spokesman also said that his firm had received building permits for the land on Tuesday, and that construction was expected to begin "within two to three months." But the Pisgat Ze'ev apartment projects are not simply a breakthrough for the ongoing Jerusalem housing crunch. Rumors that the project had been frozen due to American pressure began surfacing in late July after it was reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had agreed to halt construction in the over-the-Green Line neighborhood after meeting with US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell. Those rumors circulated among residents and local politicians for a few months, but were put to rest on Tuesday, when the Israel Lands Authority - which together with the Housing Ministry owned the plots of land - announced that the final bids for the land had been awarded. The ILA's official announcement of the final bids stated that the reason for the delay was rooted in a drawn-out legal battle with the contractors, who were upset when their original bids, made in October 2008, had been rejected by the government. After a series of hearings and legal appeals, three of those contractors won the rights to the old bids, which now encompass three areas of Pisgat Ze'ev - one in the neighborhood's north, and the other two in the east. However, because the prices agreed on for the old bids are likely considerably lower than what brand new bids would fetch for the same plots of land, some have speculated that the move to revive the original contracts was rooted in something more nefarious than builders' rights and legal decisions. "There is only one reason why the government of Israel would prefer to revive the original tenders, rather than issue new ones," read an article written by Daniel Seidemann, an attorney for the Ir Amim organization and Lara Friedman, from Americans for Peace Now. "It allows Israeli officials to say, 'What are you getting upset about? There is nothing new here - these are old tenders. We are just following through with something that was already approved.'" "There can be no question," the article continues, that "this decision to go ahead with the Pisgat Ze'ev tenders is a deliberate decision by Netanyahu to poke a finger in the eye of President Obama and Special Envoy Mitchell. It is the latest effort by Netanyahu to use settlement-related developments in east Jerusalem to challenge and undermine President Obama's peace effort." While a spokesman for the prime minister derided the article as "irrelevant, because Jerusalem is the subject of negotiations," Kurt Hoyer, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Tel Aviv , told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the American administration was "trying to avoid reacting to everything that happens on the ground," and that their main focus at this point was, "about getting [Israelis and Palestinians] back to the negotiating table." However, Hoyer said, while that meant cracking down on terrorism for the Palestinians, it also meant curbing settlement construction for the Israelis. Hoyer did not elaborate on where east Jerusalem stood in that context.