Home > State to OK 4,300 new homes in East Jerusalem
State to OK 4,300 new homes in East Jerusalemby JERUSALEM - Open-Publishing - Sunday 14 August 2011
Palestinians oppose all Israeli construction in East Jerusalem because they hope to establish the capital of a future state there.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai gave final authorization to build 1,600 apartments in East Jerusalem and will approve 2,700 more in days, officials said Wednesday.
Actual construction likely will not begin for years, because building plans have to go through multiple approval processes. But the decision could complicate diplomatic efforts to dissuade Palestinians from declaring statehood at the United Nations.
It drew immediate criticism from the Palestinians, and from Peace Now, which accused the government of seizing on mass protests over housing costs to justify the controversial construction.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office knew the construction plans were moving ahead, Interior Ministry spokesman Roi Lachmanovich said. An earlier approval for the 1,600-apartment project embarrassed Netanyahu and caused a diplomatic rift with the United States because it coincided with a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Palestinians oppose all Israeli construction in East Jerusalem because they hope to establish the capital of a future state there. The planned new apartments also could create problems for Washington, which is trying to persuade the Palestinians to abandon their statehood bid and enter into negotiations with Israel instead.
Jerusalem’s fate "needs to be negotiated between the two parties," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer. "Unilateral actions on either side that appear to prejudice the outcome of those negotiations we find counterproductive."
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat accused Israel of favoring settlements over peace. "We call upon the U.S. administration to support our endeavor at the UN because the only way to preserve the two-state solution now is the admittance of the state of Palestine," he said.
Lachmanovich, the ministry spokesman, said the new apartments were necessary to address a housing shortage in the city. "There’s always something pending," he said, when asked about the timing of the approvals.
Peace Now accused the government of "cynically" exploiting a sweeping grassroots protest over high housing prices to cement its plans to build new apartments in East Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, Washington rebuked Israel for advancing separate plans to build 930 apartments in another neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians refuse to negotiate with the Netanyahu government as long as it continues to build in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel rejects that demand, arguing that previous rounds of talks moved ahead in tandem with settlement construction.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967 after capturing it from Jordan. It does not consider the Jewish neighborhoods it has built there to be settlements, but other countries make no such distinction and do not recognize Jerusalem’s annexation.
Adding to the potential for political tension is the Palestinians’ plan to seek UN recognition as a state. They are trying to whip up enthusiasm at home through mass rallies. But after two bloody uprisings against Israel, Palestinians have little appetite for a third, and officials have drafted a plan to keep the rallies peaceful, they said on Wednesday.
Under the plan shown to The Associated Press, marches and rallies inside West Bank cities are permitted, but the gatherings will be confined to city limits. Demonstrators will be kept away from flashpoints like Israeli settlements and military checkpoints. Palestinian police would ring West Bank cities to keep protesters far from Israelis.
A wild card in the deck is Hamas-run Gaza. Hamas is disdainful of the UN statehood bid and will likely not organize protests to support it. But if violence erupts in the West Bank, Gaza could be expected to follow.
Israeli officials disagree over what might happen in September. One government-commissioned study said the rallies will likely be peaceful, but Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has predicted "unprecedented violence."