Deputy mayor says he’s looking carefully at some sensitive plans, as PM prepares for trip to meet Obama

Illustrative photo of a construction site in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, December 2012 (AP/Dan Balilty)
Illustrative photo of a construction site in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, December 2012 (AP/Dan Balilty)


The Jerusalem Municipality and the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday denied a report that the capital city’s planning committee ordered a unilateral freeze on construction in East Jerusalem.

But Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who heads the committee, acknowledged a two week “delay” for some projects. He told Army Radio that he was looking more closely into some building plans — in East and West Jerusalem — and that they would be brought to the committee in two weeks at the most. He said that at this sensitive time, he wanted to be particularly careful with the approvals process.

On Monday morning, Army Radio reported the city’s Local Planning and Building Committee had ordered a construction freeze on both Jewish and Arab building projects in the east of the city ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to Washington; Netanyahu will be at the White House on November 9. A source told the radio station the decision to extend the order to include Arab housing was made so as not to appear to be discriminating against Jewish residents of East Jerusalem.

According to the report, the freeze would include a halt to construction on a controversial building project in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood situated over the Green Line in East Jerusalem. Building in Ramat Shlomo provoked a major crisis in US-Israel ties when a project in that ultra-Orthodox neighborhood was announced during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in 2010.

The report noted the timely nature of the freeze, which comes ahead of Netanyahu’s first meeting with President Barack Obama in more than a year.

Ariella Smilanski-Deri, the committee’s spokeswoman, denied the Army Radio report and said that construction in the capital would proceed as usual.

“The Jerusalem Municipality continues to advance construction throughout the city for all its populations. The plans will be presented later,” the statement said.

The Prime Minister’s Office said it was unaware of the measure, saying that if there was an order to halt construction, it comes from the municipality alone.

Plans to build 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo were first announced in 2010 while Biden was visiting Israel. In May of this year, one day after Netanyahu announced the formation of a new governing coalition, the municipality approved the construction of an additional 900 housing units. The announcement provoked fierce American opposition and triggered a months-long diplomatic spat with Washington.

The Obama administration has had a cold relationship with Netanyahu, with continued construction for Jews over the pre-1967 Green Line — a move that the international community views as a major obstacle to peace with the Palestinians — playing its part.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War, and says it retains the right to build in any part of the capital.

As reported by The Times of Israel