Is another crisis brewing over east Jerusalem construction? A controversial construction plan at the Shepherd Hotel compound in east Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarah neighborhood has received the final approval, Ynet has learned.
Following the current crisis vis-à-vis the United States over the announcement of east Jerusalem construction plans during Vice President's Joe Biden's visit, the Prime Minister's Office has been making an effort to monitor any sensitive move in the capital.
Disputed site (Archive photo: Gil Yohanan)
However, an official announcement posted on the Jerusalem city hall website regarding the Sheikh Jarah approval may provoke a whole new crisis.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem city hall characterized the latest reports as "distorted," saying they were meant to stir a provocation during the PM's visit in Washington.
"The plan was approved in July 2009 at the local committee. Its approval was published in the media back then. The fees were paid by the land owners only on March 15 of this year, and the approval was granted automatically after that," the official response said.
Sources closely affiliated with the construction project also said that the latest permit is merely technical.
"The permit for the Shepherd Hotel was granted more than six months ago. Regrettably, radical leftist elements chose to present the matter as if the plan was approved today. These same elements were seeking to sabotage the PM's visit in Washington," one source said.
The owner of the land in the hotel compound is Florida Jew Irwin Moskowitz. The principled approval for the construction plan, which includes the establishment of 20 housing units and a parking lot, was granted by the Jerusalem zoning committee in July of last year, angering American officials.
At the time, Israel's Ambassador in Washington Michael Oren was summoned for a meeting and reprimanded, with officials making it clear to him that the Obama Administration demands an immediate halt to construction preparations at the site.
However, the construction plan received official approval this past Thursday, allowing the building process at the site to go ahead at any time now.
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem city hall announced Tuesday evening the promotion of a comprehensive plan for east Jerusalem. The initiative will include an increase in the commercial and hotel zones in the area, as well as the addition of another 100 housing units earmarked for Arabs.
Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer told Ynet that "the Jerusalem city hall conducts its own policy, which may cause grave diplomatic damage and make the two-state solution impossible. The intention to Judaize the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood is destructive for anyone who believes in the two-state solution and in separating from the Palestinians."
Hatem Abdel Kader, holder of the Jerusalem portfolio in Fatah, told Ynet that the decision was tantamount to "Netanyahu slapping Obama in the face in his own house."
Abdel Kader added that "Netanyahu feels that AIPAC is on his side, that he owns the US and that no action, no pressure by the Americans can prevent him from going ahead with the construction."
The Fatah official added that the construction's approval proved that the reports of Washington's acquiescence in the face of Israel's plans to build in east Jerusalem were true.
"The new plans for the Shepherd Hotel prove that the dispute between the Administration and Israel was not real and pertained to the way the plans were presented, rather than to the construction itself. What the Americans are actually saying to the Israelis is 'keep building – but I don't want to know about it,'" he said.
However, Likud Knesset Member Yariv Levin came to Netanyahu's aid, saying that "the authorization of Jewish building in Jerusalem is a practical translation of the clear statements made by the prime minister upon his departure for the US, whereby our right to build in Jerusalem is unshakable."
"The building policy in Jerusalem is Israel's internal business, and we must not agree to any dictate on this issue," he added.
Ali Waked, Attila Somfalvi, and Amnon Meranda contributed to the report