Middle East: Israel announces new housing
tenders in East Jerusalem
Saturday, October 16, 2010 11:43:12 AM,
Israel said Friday its housing ministry published tenders for 238
new housing units in East Jerusalem, a move which could further
jeopardise the already uncertain resumption of direct negotiations
with the Palestinians.
The tenders were the first to be published in the annexed eastern
section of the disputed city for 10 months.
The apartments were being planned in Pisgat Zeev and Ramot -- two
Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem built beyond the "green line"
that separates Israel from the West Bank, or on occupied land
under international law.
The tenders sparked an angry Palestinian reaction, with chief
negotiator Saeb Erekat saying Israel was to blame for the collapse
of direct talks and was showing it preferred settlements over
An anonymous Israeli government official confirmed to DPA that the
tenders had been authorised. He would give no further details.
But Israel Army Radio quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's
office as explaining the decision was taken by Housing Minister
Ariel Atias of the ultra-Orthodox coalition Shas party.
It added Netanyahu had been briefed, and the White House was also
informed -- to avoid an embarrassing fallout similar to that of
last March, when a local planning committee announced the
construction of 1,600 apartments in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish
settlement of Ramat Shlomo during a visit of an unaware US Vice
President Joe Biden.
Netanyahu said at the time he had not been informed.
Netanyahu's office stressed no building freeze had existed in East
Jerusalem, but the prime minister's office was only monitoring the
activity of other offices -- the district planning committee and
the housing ministry -- to "avoid being caught by surprise during
sensitive times as had happened in the past", Army Radio said.
In Washington, the US expressed "disappointment" and said it had
protested to Israel that the move was "contrary to our efforts to
resume direct negotiations between the parties", said Philip
Crowley, spokesperson for the US State Department.
Asked by a reporter whether there had been a tacit understanding
between the US and Israel on the issue, Crowley said only that the
Israeli government was "well aware of our concerns about this".
Israel radio had earlier quoted a senior official in Jerusalem as
saying that Washington did not immediately take "drastic" action
to prevent the move.
Israel did not wish to torpedo the peace process, but a building
freeze in its self-declared capital was impossible, said the
official. A severe housing shortage existed in Jerusalem and no
land was available in the western section of the city, he argued.
"These tenders show that their (Israel's) choice is settlements
and not peace, and for this reason negotiations have reached a
dead end," Erekat told reporters after meeting European Union
Middle East envoy Mark Otte at his West Bank office.
He said he had made telephone calls to the US and European
leaders, asking for their support in case the Palestinians decide
to push through a UN resolutions explicitly stating their right to
a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as
The Palestinians and their Arab supporters are contemplating
turning to the international body for recognition of their right
to a state within the border of before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
That would add more weight to their already internationally
recognised case that any Israeli construction beyond those borders
-- or the "green line" -- is illegal.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in Brussels
Friday that the Arab League may submit a request for a UN
resolution supporting a Palestinian state within the 1967 border
as early as November.
Israel and the Palestinians revived direct peace talks between
them only in early September, as many as 17 months after Netanyahu
of the Likud party took office at the head of a coalition with
mostly right-wing and ultra-right parties.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was reluctant to enter into
negotiations with the nationalist premier -- and made a freeze of
all Israeli construction in the occupied territories a
Netanyahu imposed a 10-month, partial freeze in a bid to get the
talks going, but that moratorium expired Sep 26. He has said he
cannot and will not extend the freeze. Washington is making a
frantic effort to broker a compromise.
The moratorium excluded East Jerusalem, but it was understood that
Israel nonetheless committed to Washington to avoid any major
provocative projects there for the time being, albeit de-facto.
Netanyahu is under pressure from the hawkish members of his
government, but Welfare Minister Yitzhak Herzog, of the Labour
Party, his most dovish coalition partner, said his party would
reconsider staying in the government if the peace talks collapsed.
The fate of the negotiations would be sealed within in the next
two weeks, he said.
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