Former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told Ynet Monday that Israel's construction plans in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan are silent steps meant to override the temporary construction ban in settlements pushed by the United States.
"These are quiet steps as dangerous as construction in settlements," he said following the Jerusalem Municipality's approval of the razing plan in the city's al-Bustan neighborhood, according to which 22 houses will be demolished and an archaeological park will be built in their place.
Qureia, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who resides in Abu Dis, added that "these steps, coupled with the expulsion of Palestinian Parliament members from Jerusalem, are dealing a fatal blow the American efforts to jumpstart the (peace) process."
Earlier Monday, the Jerusalem Planning and Construction committee approved Mayor Nir Barkat's plan to build an archeological park in Silwan. According to the controversial plan, dubbed "King's Garden", 22 houses will be demolished, while 66 others will receive building permits retroactively.
"The Israelis are laying the groundwork for additional construction once they decide to violate the ban (construction freeze)," said Qureia, "They are deepening the Judaization of Jerusalem and jeopardizing the possibility of resuming the peace process."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States was concerned about the project, though he said it was a preliminary step being taken by the Jerusalem municipality and not the Israeli government.
"We've had a number of conversations with the government of Israel about it," Crowley said. "This is expressly the kind of step that we think undermines trust that is fundamental to making progress in the proximity talks," referring to the indirect, US-mediated peace negotiations.
During the debate on the plan at City Hall, Councilman Meir Margalit, of the Meretz faction, called the mayor "a clumsy amateur" for bringing the plan to a vote just two weeks before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with the US president.
"The world will thus recognize that it is dealing with pyromaniacs. The mayor needs to understand that the municipality is too much for him, and for the sake of the delicate balance of the city remove the plan from the agenda," Margalit said.
"Let us have no doubt that this is not a professional plan, it is a political plan. It contains no humanitarian considerations for the residents but only aims to strengthen Israeli sovereignty in Silwan."
Criticism of the plan was also heard from the right side of the political map. Likud faction chairman in the municipality, attorney Elisha Peleg, claimed the park was "a prize for criminals".
"There are residents living there who do not cooperate with the municipality, and don't even recognize the state. These residents are inconsiderate of the needs of Jerusalem's residents, they just want this neighborhood, al-Bustan, which was named after the trees and gardens which once flourished there, to be set aside for construction only," he said.
The Jerusalem municipality responded by stating: "There are three existing alternatives to King's Garden. The first possibility is to evacuate the entire area and demolish all 88 illegal houses built here in accordance with today's existing city plans and the demolition orders issued by the court. The second possibility is a sweeping authorization of all the illegal building offenses on the site.
"The municipality chose a third option that balances various needs by which an unprecedented option will be granted to authorize 75% of the houses, and a legal option be granted to build in a complex for the remaining 22 houses with proper infrastructure."
Reuters contributed to the report