'State has frozen E. Jerusalem building'

Right-wing MKs furious; MK Uri Ariel (NU-NRP) says building freeze is a "national disgrace."

uri Ariel 248.88 (photo credit: Knesset)
uri Ariel 248.88
(photo credit: Knesset)
A group of right-wing legislators charged Monday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has frozen construction in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem as a result of the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. "There has never before been a situation like this in the history of Jerusalem where an Israeli government actively freezes building," said MK Uri Ariel (NU-NRP) during a special party meeting held in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. The lawmaker called the de facto freeze in building "a national disgrace" for the state of Israel. The hawkish parliamentarians were told by the head of the neighborhood administration Herzl Yehezkel that the government had frozen all new work in the outlying neighborhood, which overlooks Bethlehem. Construction that was approved shortly after the Annapolis peace conference sparked international criticism, including a rare American rebuke by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "All tenders for new building have been frozen," said Yehezkel, dismissing as government "disinformation" conflicting statements by government ministers about construction in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem such as Har Homa. The state has chosen not to market about 240 housing units in the neighborhood, after its decision to market 307 units at the end of last year, Adi Saris, the director of building in the neighborhood, said Monday. "We must not let government spin confuse the public over the basic fact that building in [east] Jerusalem has been stopped," said MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP). He urged the Shas party to "not only speak" about bolting the government if the government negotiates with the Palestinians over Jerusalem "but to act." Earlier this month, Jerusalem Municipality Director-General Yair Ma'ayan told a parliamentary committee that the government was holding up construction of hundreds of apartments in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. Construction and Housing Ministry spokesman Kobi Bleich said Monday that the ministry had delayed the publication of the additional group of housing units in Har Homa for purely logistical reasons, so as not to flood the market all at once. A separate plan to construct 750 units in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, which also lies behind the Green Line, is also on hold pending legal wrangling between contractors and the state, he said. After last year's construction plans in Har Homa caught Olmert by surprise, the premier instructed government ministries not to approve new building in east Jerusalem without his approval. Previously, only building plans in the West Bank required the prime minister's or the defense minister's authorization. At the same time, Olmert has said that despite a moratorium on new settlements and land expropriation in the West Bank, building in Jerusalem and the West Bank population centers are "not in the same status." An Israeli government official said Monday that the government policy remains the same, and that "Jerusalem is Jerusalem and not the West Bank." About 180,000 Israelis live in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. Israel differentiates between building in Jerusalem and the West Bank, a distinction not accepted by the international community. Olmert, who has already declared a near complete freeze on construction in the West Bank, is seen as unlikely to openly order a halt to construction in east Jerusalem, since by doing so he would likely lose his parliamentary majority by pushing Shas out of the government. Palestinians demand all of east Jerusalem - including the city's holy sites - as the capital of their future state and oppose any Israeli construction in east Jerusalem, saying such a move jeopardizes peace talks. According to a 2000 peace proposal put forward by former US President Bill Clinton and rejected by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem such as Har Homa would remain under Israeli control, while Arab sections would be part of the Palestinian state.