Israel advances housing plan
Project would isolate Palestinian villages
JERUSALEM – Israel is moving forward with another large housing project on territory it seized during the 1967 Mideast war, unveiling plans to build 2,610 units in what critics say would be the first entirely new development on disputed Jerusalem land in 14 years.
Plans for the project, to be called Givat Hamatos, would expand the footprint of Jewish housing development into new areas, nearly cutting Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem off from West Bank communities. If built, the project would make it harder to create a Palestinian state with contiguous borders and a capital in East Jerusalem, opponents say.
“This one is really bad,” said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, the Israeli anti-settlement group. “This would block the potential of a two-state solution.”
Peace Now said Givat Hamatos would be the first new Israeli development in the Jerusalem area since the creation of Har Homa in 1997, which was approved by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term in office.
The project would isolate the Palestinian communities of Beit Safafa and Shurafat, which are considered to be part of East Jerusalem, from the West Bank city of Bethlehem. It would be built on land that Israel now considers to be part of southern Jerusalem. Palestinians and the international community never recognized the annexation and view the land as occupied West Bank territory.
Government officials stressed that the project was still in the early stages of the approval process.
“This proposal has been around for years and there has been no decision taken yet, either at the municipal level or the national level,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.
Plans for Givat Hamatos were originally announced in 2008, but were shelved to allow for revisions. On Tuesday, Jerusalem authorities quietly resubmitted the plans, starting the clock on a 60-day public comment period.
If approved, groundbreaking would not be expected to take place for two years. Israel has said it needs to build new homes to meet growing demand around Jerusalem.
Palestinian officials said the proposal was a sign that Netanyahu is not serious about resuming peace talks and is thumbing his nose at the international community, which has repeatedly urged Israel to halt settlement construction.
Last week the Mideast Quartet, consisting of the U.S., Russia, United Nations and European Union, called upon Palestinians and Israelis to refrain from provocative actions and return to the negotiating table by the end of the month.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the Givat Hamatos proposal “makes a mockery of the Quartet statement and other international efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace.”