US, PA condemn plan for 1,400 new e. J'lem building units

“These type of unilateral actions can be counterproductive to getting both sides back to negotiating table,” US Embassy spokesman tells 'Post.'

Gilo panorama 311 (photo credit: Matthias Guggisberg)
Gilo panorama 311
(photo credit: Matthias Guggisberg)
The United States and the Palestinians immediately condemned on Sunday news of preliminary plans to build 1,400 apartment units in Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
“These types of unilateral actions can be counterproductive to getting both sides back to the negotiating table,” US Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer told The Jerusalem Post.
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The United States has in the past frowned on this type of east Jerusalem construction, he said. But he added that Washington had not yet commented on this specific project.
“We are working to get both parties to begin discussing the core issues,” Hoyer said.
Building in the eastern part of the capital is so diplomatically sensitive, that even though the Gilo plans are four years away from completion, news of a possible hearing before the local planning and construction committee generated an immediate reaction.
The Palestinians, who have insisted that they will not hold direct negotiations with Israel until it halts construction in West Bank settlements and in east Jerusalem, said Sunday that the new plan undermined hopes for peace.
Israel has refused to cede to this demand.
The planned Gilo construction “proves our point that the Israeli government has chosen settlements and not peace,” said senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.
He urged the US “to hold the Israeli government fully responsible” for the breakdown in peace talks and to support an upcoming Palestinian initiative to get a UN Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlement construction.
City councilman Meir Margalit (Meretz), who opposes the Gilo plan, said it was one of the larger projects under consideration for approval.
It was problematic, he said, because of its placement in the periphery of the city and because of its impact on the peace process.
“It is the last nail in the coffin of peace,” Margalit said.
City councilman Elisha Peleg (Likud) said he supports the project, which addresses a severe housing shortage in the city, particularly for young couples and soldiers newly released from the army.
The land is owned by private Israelis and is being advanced by the Jerusalem Development Authority.
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon, who chairs the local planning and construction committee that is likely to begin debating the plan possibly as early as next week, said that the project was four years away from final approval.
The land, he said, was zoned for construction years ago and that its development has already been in the works for a long time.
Landowners have a right to build on their property and to see approval for such projects, Kahlon said. The committee, he said, is required to evaluate the project and its considerations when judging it were technical and not diplomatic. He added that he did not know exactly when the plan was scheduled to come before his committee.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said that if Israel wants to come to a peace agreement with the Palestinians, it must halt such projects, which she said was being developed with the help of the city and the government.
If Israel wants to build in east Jerusalem, it must negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians that would allow it to do so, she added.
The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment, but it has consistently insisted that Israel has a right to build in east Jerusalem.
Last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the foreign press that in previous peace proposals, including the unofficial Geneva Initiative, Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem would remain part of Israel.
“Nobody doubts that,” he said.

AP contributed to this report.