US Vice President Joe Biden is in the region to reignite the peace process, but the Interior Ministry seems unmoved by the political statements made and on Tuesday approved the addition of 1,600 housing units in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, which is located beyond the Green Line. The Ministry's District Committee for Planning and Construction approved the plan be submitted for public comment.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai approved the decision that was made on Tuesday, but sources from the Interior Ministry claimed the timing of the approval was coincidental and unrelated to the US vice president's visit. The ministry confirmed that the housing units in question are located beyond the Green Line. "This means nothing to us, since the area is in Jerusalem's municipal territory," a source from the committee told Ynet.
The plan includes the expansion of the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood southward and eastward, as well as the upgrading of the existing road leading into the neighborhood and the addition of a new access road from the west. The plan includes 1,600 housing units, in an area of some 580 dunams (roughly 143 acres), with the average housing unit spanning 120 square meters (1,291 square feet).
Once the plan has been submitted for public comment, the public has 60 days to file an objection to the plan, which will then be discussed by the committee. This is a process that can take some time.
Dalit Zilber, the district planner for the Interior Ministry, said, "The plan is in line with the Interior Ministry's policy of upgrading and expanding the ancient residential neighborhoods of Jerusalem and increasing the supply of housing units to the diverse population in the city, while raising the quality of life for Jerusalem's residents."
'Decision is slap in the face'
Dr. Meir Margalit, a member of Jerusalem's City Council from the Meretz faction, claimed that the construction in question is just another phase in an ongoing process. "This is a relatively new neighborhood that was built a decade ago, and was constructed between the neighborhoods of Ramot and Shuafat, on land that was confiscated from the Shuafat village," he told Ynet.
"Today, the neighborhood is inhabited mainly by haredim, and it has recently been active in efforts to prevent construction by Shuafat residents near the neighborhood. Not only did they steal land, they also do not cease to do everything in their power to prevent Arabs from building on their own land."
Contrary to the interior minister's stance, the city's Meretz council member said the timing of the approval is no coincidence. "This is the interior minister's initiative, which is meant to sabotage the announcement that Netanyahu issued today regarding the renewal of indirect negotiations with the Palestinians. It is also a kind of slap in the face of the American administration:
"Yishai could have waited two or three days after US Vice President Biden left the country, but instead of waiting, he chose to do this while he is here, in order to signal to the Obama administration that there large forces in Israel that will not allow him to promote any peace talks. This is further proof that Eli Yishai is a man who endangers peace and should be restrained before he causes irreversible damage to the State."
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said, "This is a part that the world does not recognize as the State of Israel. This running rampant in Jerusalem endangers us all, and the government just act responsibly to prevent provocation."
The Ir Amim organization said, "All construction beyond the Green Line may be interpreted as Israeli provocation and calls into question Israel's good faith ahead of the launching of proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians."
Anat Shalev contributed to this report