Building plan for eastern Jerusalem’s Gilo advances


A plan to build nearly 900 apartments in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo was approved on the eve of scheduled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The final approval by the Interior Ministry came late Monday. The plan now goes to the Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration for approval.

The plan was approved by the ministry’s regional planning and building committee in December, according to Haaretz, but ministry approval was delayed by changes to the plan.

Monday’s announcement came a day after the announcement that Israel would issue tenders for construction companies to build 1,200 apartments in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

Palestinian negotiators have threatened to boycott the opening of the first new peace negotiations in three years, scheduled for Wednesday in Jerusalem, over the issue of the new settlement construction announcements.

“Settlement expansion goes against the U.S. administration’s pledges and threatens to cause the negotiations’ collapse,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told the French news agency AFP following the announcement. “This settlement expansion is unprecedented. It threatens to make talks fail even before they’ve started.”

Netanyahu visits Gilo to defend Jerusalem construction


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo following an international outcry over the approval of nearly 800 apartments there.

“United Jerusalem is Israel's eternal capital. We have full rights to build in it. We have built in Jerusalem, we are building in Jerusalem and we will continue to build in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said Tuesday during his visit with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. “This is our policy, and I will continue to support building in Jerusalem.”

Israel's Interior Ministry last week announced its final approval for plans to build 797 new apartments in Gilo, located in southeastern Jerusalem. The initial approval for the project came in June.

European Union policy chief Catherine Ashton over the weekend issued a statement condemning the new construction approval.

“Settlements are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. The EU has repeatedly urged the government of Israel to immediately end all settlement activities in the West Bank, including in east Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under the 'road map.' ”

The Jerusalem Municipality must still issue building permits for the project.

Barkat called Netanyahu and his government “true friends of Jerusalem.”

“Thank you for the support and the resources that you have allocated to the city's growth, and for the assistance that you have given to our right and our obligation to build and develop the city,” the mayor said. “We will continue to build tens of thousands of apartments throughout the city.”

Israel approves more expansion of settlement near Jerusalem


Israel on Thursday issued a detailed plan for the building of some 800 new homes on annexed land in the West Bank that is certain to attract further international condemnation of its settlement policies.

A planning committee issued a call for bids from contractors to start building 797 housing units on the western slopes of the urban settlement of Gilo, an area that Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war and later declared part of Jerusalem.

The annexation has never been recognized internationally.

Palestinians want to create a state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

But they say Israeli settlement building around the city, such as at Gilo, which is home to 40,000 Israelis and lies between mainly Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, will cripple the viability of any future state.

Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank, which it calls Judea and Samaria. Some 500,000 settlers live in territory seized in 1967.

Previous Israeli announcements and subsequent settlement building have always drawn worldwide rebukes, including from Israel's main ally, the United States.

Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settler group Peace Now, said construction could begin within a few months.

“The government could stop the process before building begins but is taking advantage of the upcoming elections in order to set facts on the ground and will make the possibility of peace with the Palestinians even harder to achieve,” she said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called elections for January 22.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jon Hemming

Jerusalem committee approves new Gilo housing


A Jerusalem building committee has approved the construction of 130 new apartments in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.

The construction must still be approved by the government’s Interior Ministry. It will be about three years before ground will be broken on the project, if approved at all levels.

The project received its first round of approvals in November 2010.

Building approvals in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem were sped up by the Israeli government in response to the Palestinians being accepted for membership in UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, in November of this year.

Peace Now: Israel planning new East Jerusalem settlement


Israel plans to build more than 2,600 housing units in a new urban settlement in East Jerusalem, an anti-settlement group said on Friday, angering Palestinians who want a halt to all such projects before they return to peace talks.

The Peace Now group said the plan was approved earlier this week by a municipal committee, which had given the go-ahead for construction on the site.

There was no immediate comment from the committee on the report, but the Palestinians said they believed the news was accurate.

“Israel’s plan to build 2,610 housing units … between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, makes a mockery of … efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace,” chief Palestinian Authority negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said in a statement.

Direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians broke down a year ago after Israel refused to bow to demands that it cease all settlement building.

The United States has tried to restart talks, but they are still held up on the settlements issue. The efforts have gained new urgency in recent weeks because of a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

Washington has threatened to veto the request, arguing that a Palestinian state should come out of peace talks, but the Palestinians say that continued Israeli settlement building proves that the negotiations process is dead.

Peace Now, which closely monitors city housing activity, said the plan would create an entirely new neighborhood in an area called “Givat Hamatos” or “aircraft hill”—named after an Israel jet that fell at the site in the 1967 war.

Last month Israel announced a plan to expand the Gilo suburban settlement which lies close to Givat Hamatos. That decision drew heavy criticism from Arab countries and Israel’s Western allies, who said it would complicate peace efforts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected those complaints and said Gilo was an integral part of Jerusalem.

Peace Now said building at Givat Hamatos would be a “game changer” adding that “the new neighborhood will complete the isolation between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, and will destroy any possibility of a territorial solution.”

The group said that the plans had been deposited for public review and that barring objections, construction could begin after 60 days. A delay of some months could occur if a committee or court needed to hear objections.

Writing by Ori Lewis

Netanyahu rejects widespread criticism of homes plan


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Western and Arab complaints that the planned construction of 1,100 new homes in Gilo on annexed land close to Jerusalem would complicate Middle East peace efforts.

“Gilo is not a settlement nor an outpost. It is a neighborhood in the very heart of Jerusalem about five minutes from the center of town,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said.

In every peace plan on the table in the past 18 years Gilo “stays part of Jerusalem and therefore this planning decision in no way contradicts” the current Israel government’s desire for peace based on two states for the two peoples, he added.

Netanyahu also stressed the construction approval announced on Tuesday was a “preliminary planning decision.”

The United States, Europe and Arab states said the announcement would complicate efforts to renew peace talks and defuse a crisis over a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations.

Britain and the European Union called on Netanyahu to reverse the decision, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said new settlement building would be “counter-productive.”

The U.S. State Department’s number two and three officials for policy, Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, discussed the issue with Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren on Tuesday, the State Department said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters both meetings were in person but had been previously scheduled, so Oren was not “summoned” to the State Department—a sign of diplomatic annoyance.

Nuland declined to say whether the United States had been given any advance warning of the construction decision.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas applied at the United Nations on Friday for full Palestinian membership, a move opposed by Israel and the United States, which urged him to resume negotiations with Israel to end the 63-year-old conflict.

Abbas has made a cessation of Israeli settlement building a condition for returning to talks which collapsed a year ago after Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial moratorium on construction.

The so-called Quartet of international mediators—the United States, the European Union, Russia and the U.N.—has called for talks to begin within a month and urged both sides not to take unilateral actions that could block peacemaking.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the new housing units Israel wants to build represented “1,100 ‘noes’ to the Quartet statement” urging a resumption of negotiations.

Palestinians want to create a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel’s Interior Ministry said a district planning committee approved the Gilo project and public objections to the proposal could be lodged within a 60-day review period, after which construction could begin.

Reporting by Douglas Hamilton; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Matthew Jones and Jackie Frank

Gilo building plan gets go-ahead


Jerusalem’s district planning committee has approved a construction plan to build 1,100 housing units in Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood of 40,000 in eastern Jerusalem.

The plan also includes public buildings, a school and an industrial zone, Ynet reported. The public has 60 days to express opposition to the plan.

The committee had previously approved a motion to expand the neighborhood with additional housing. The plan allots 20 percent of the new housing for young couples..

The approval comes as the international community, including the United States and the Mideast Quartet, are attempting to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The Palestinians have said they will not resume talks until Israel halts settlement construction, including in Jerusalem.

Gilo was annexed by Israel after being captured in 1967.

Clinton: Israeli settlement move counter-productive


Israel’s decision to build 1,100 settlement homes on West Bank land is counter-productive to reviving peace talks with the Palestinians, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.

The decision appears to make it even less likely that the two sides will answer a call on Friday by the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, collectively know as the Quartet, to resume peace talks within a month.

“We believe that this morning’s announcement by the government of Israel approving the construction of (1,100) housing units in East Jerusalem is counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties,” Clinton told reporters at a news conference.

“As you know, we have long urged both sides to avoid any kind of action which could undermine trust, including, and perhaps most particularly, in Jerusalem, any action that could be viewed as provocative by either side,” she added.

Jerusalem approves 900 Gilo houses


The Jerusalem municipality has approved a controversial plan to build 900 new homes in the Gilo neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem.

The construction still must be approved by the Interior Ministry; building would not begin for at least a couple of years.

Approximately 40,000 Jews are now living in Gilo.

The project, proposed in 2009, has been criticized by the Obama administration as making it more difficult to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and a Palestinian Authority spokesman said it destroys any attempt to restart the peace process.

Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that the plan “shatters any attempt to lay down foundations that can lead to a real peace.”

EU policy chief joins U.S., U.N. in rapping Gilo housing approval


European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton joined the United States and the United Nations in condemning a Jerusalem committee’s approval of new housing in Gilo.

Ashton said Wednesday that she was “deeply disappointed” in the initial approval Monday by the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee of the construction of 942 housing units in Gilo, a residential district in mostly Arab eastern Jerusalem. Other committees already had approved the plan. The units would be built on privately owned land as well as land owned by the Jewish National Fund, Haaretz reported.

“These plans may further damage an already fragile political environment,” Ashton said. “I reiterate that the EU considers that settlement activities in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace.”

The planning and building committee’s backing came the day before Israeli President Shimon Peres met with President Obama in Washington to discuss, among other issues, ways to restart stalled peace talks. The Obama administration has objected to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

The White House on Tuesday also criticized the construction approval.

“The United States is deeply concerned by continuing Israeli actions with respect to settlement construction,” White House National Security Staff spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

“Not only are continued Israeli settlements illegitimate, Israel’s actions run counter to efforts to resume direct negotiations,” he said. “As we have said, we believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties should mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both sides for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world.

The United Nations also condemned the approval.

“We reiterate that Israeli settlement activity anywhere in occupied territory, including in east Jerusalem, is illegal and contrary to the road map,” Richard Miron, spokesman for the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, said in a statement Tuesday. “We call on the Israeli government to halt further planning for new settlement units, which undermines efforts to bring about resumed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and prejudices final status discussions.”

Gilo barriers to be dismantled


The concrete barriers surrounding the Jerusalem neighborhood Gilo will be removed, Israel’s military announced.

The barriers were erected eight years ago during the second Palestinian intifada to protect the residents of Gilo from regular sniper fire from the Palestinian town Beit Jala.

The decision to remove the protective structures, announced Thursday by the Israel Defense Forces, was made due to the “stable security situation in the area.”

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