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Despite tensions, plan to build 1,600 new East Jerusalem housing units still on agenda

by Nir Hasson   23 October 2014         Haaretz

A controversial 2010  plan to build in an ultra-Othodox neighbourhood over the Green Line wa sfrozen after US pressure, but next week will be discussed by the Regional planning committee. 

Construction at Har Homa in East Jerusalem.

Construction at Har Homa in East Jerusalem. Photo by AP

Two meetings that could significantly increase tensions in already-tense Jerusalem are slated to take place next week: one in the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, which will be discussing the Temple Mount, and one in the regional planning committee for Jerusalem, which is expected to approve a large-scale plan for construction in East Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, the regional planning committee will discuss a plan to build 1,600 new apartments in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, which is over the Green Line.

This plan sparked an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Washington when the committee approved it for the first time in March 2010, while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel on an official visit. The plan was temporarily frozen in response to United States pressure, but in late 2012, after the UN General Assembly recognized Palestine as a nonmember observer state, it was unfrozen, and tenders were issued for construction of the new units.

Nevertheless, construction still hasn’t begun, because the requisite transportation infrastructure hasn’t been completed and therefore, building permits couldn’t be issued. But on Tuesday, the Moriah development company, which is owned by the Jerusalem municipality, will ask the planning committee to let the permits be issued anyway, and also to publish additional tenders.

One day earlier, on Monday, the Internal Affairs Committee is slated to hold its 15th discussion of the current Knesset term on the issue of the Temple Mount. The meeting, which both Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat will attend, will focus on security issues.

Ir Amim, a left-wing advocacy organization, commented, “In recent weeks, the international community has sharpened its opposition to Israel’s unilateral moves. Instead of showing that it is attentive to the concerns of its allies, the government has actually chosen to accelerate construction and is ignoring the damage this move will cause Israel. At this problematic moment, the Israeli government ought to freeze any controversial step that is liable to further exacerbate the political and security deterioration and try to effect a rapprochement with its overseas allies so that they will help calm the situation.”

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