Ayalon defends Gilo plan despite Quartet condemnation

Deputy FM calls neighborhood "integral part of Jerusalem," says Palestinians seek to distract world from calls to resume peace talks.

Danny Ayalon at Gilo (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Danny Ayalon at Gilo
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Gilo is not a settlement but an “integral part of Jerusalem,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon stressed during a tour of the capital’s third-largest neighborhood for 50 members of the foreign media on Sunday.
Ayalon delicately denounced the Quartet’s condemnation of a new building project in Gilo, which was approved by an Interior Ministry committee last week.
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“Jerusalem cannot be divided and will not be divided, and it’s very unfortunate that from faraway places people are trying to judge Jerusalem by standards that are completely unrealistic,” he said.
Ayalon quickly corrected himself to clarify that the comments were aimed at the Palestinian Authority, not at the Quartet or Germany. He added that the government has the “highest admiration” for Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last week that the Gilo approval “raised doubts over whether the Israeli government was interested in the resumption of serious negotiations.”
“It’s hard for us to understand why every little building, every little neighborhood extension which is within the natural growth of a vibrant city has to become an international issue and has to be raised by the Palestinians as a precondition to peace talks,” Ayalon said.
He called on the PA to accept the Quartet’s new peace initiative, as Israel has done. “It is time for the Palestinians to stop making excuses,” he said.
Ayalon also dismissed the claim that the Gilo housing announcement was “bad timing,” saying that building takes place in Jerusalem every day.
“You can say there is never a good time, but no, this is a thriving city that has needs,” he said.
Two projects in Gilo recently received approvals from the Interior Ministry, the Southern and the Western Slopes of Gilo.
Both projects are for 900 housing units, with the southern project given the option of up to 1,100 units pending the resolution of land ownership issues. Each project will have about 35 buildings of eight floors, which will be located toward the bottom of a wadi.
The western project has received final approval, and the southern project has received initial approval, pending a 60- day period for the public to file objections.
Gilo community council director Yaffa Shitrit said the neighborhood would file objections to both projects because there were no plans for additional roads to alleviate the already-congested roads there.
“I feel like there’s just a lack of understanding,” said Shitrit, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood.
“If they came here and saw for themselves, they would understand that shouting about this is totally unnecessary and irrelevant,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who holds the planning and environmental portfolios, said Gilo was one of the “most flourishing and developing parts of Jerusalem.” She said the city has a policy of building more densely in its ring neighborhoods, including the Pisgat Ze’ev, Ramot and Ramat Shlomo in the capital’s north, rather than letting the city sprawl toward the west. “It was a political and environmental decision to strengthen the inner neighborhoods,” she said.
“The idea of ‘east’ and ‘west’ Jerusalem is not geographically simple, because Arab and Jewish neighborhoods are interspersed,” she said. “We’re a really mixed bag, and if we can’t be divided we need to learn to share.”
Tsur echoed Ayalon’s statements that the neighborhood was an integral part of Jerusalem. “[Gilo] is not a settlement or a separate part of the city, it’s part of a thriving urban organism which can’t stand still and stop its building and wait for the sides to get to talking, which they were supposed to do 30 years ago,” Tsur said.
Hagit Ofran, who heads Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Team, said that though Gilo will probably be part of Israel in a final-status agreement, there should be no building there until an agreement is reached.
“If we don’t want the Palestinians to do things unilaterally, we also can’t do things unilaterally,” she said. If Gilo is part of Israel, it should be done in a way that is officially recognized by both sides, she said. “Make peace and then build in Gilo.”
Gilo resident Moran Cohen, a 24-year-old accounting student, said she had trouble understanding why the entire world was making a big fuss. “I don’t feel like a settler,” she said. “A settlement is some lonely faraway place with security concerns, but we’re part of the city.”
Ayalon and Tsur addressed the media on Sunday as they stood in front of a construction site for a Gilo project called C Jerusalem that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned when it was approved during her visit in November 2009. Clinton’s 2009 condemnation was one of the first times approval of construction in Gilo made international headlines. Four months later, the announcement of initial approval for 1,600 units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in March 2010 brought a terrible strain to relations with the White House.
Since then, nearly every approval of housing projects over the Green Line has made international headlines. Gilo is one of the five ring neighborhoods in the capital that were developed immediately after the Six Day War. In a final-status agreement, such as one based on the 2000 Clinton Parameters that calls for predominantly Jewish areas to stay part of Israel, Gilo and the other ring neighborhoods are almost certain to stay part of Jerusalem.