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Daily Israel Report

Olmert Caves in to US: No Construction in Har Homa, Atarot

Army Radio reports that PM Olmert has fallen in line with the American demand to stop construction even in Jerusalem neighborhoods.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 12/28/2007, 11:47 AM

As a result of the United States government's demands upon the government of Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ordered a halt to all construction in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.  So reports Army Radio (Galei Tzahal).

At issue are several projects, including a new tender for 307 housing units in Har Homa, in Jerusalem's southeast corner, as well as a new project in northern Jerusalem near the old Atarot airport.  Both are located on land liberated during the Six Day War, over 41 years ago.

Olmert met with Palestinian Authority chairman Abu Mazen on Thursday night, at which he told Yasser Arafat's former deputy, "Israel will not take any new steps that will have ramifications on that which is being done on the ground." 

In Accordance With the Road Map
Olmert's office responded to the Army Radio report by saying that no decision had been made regarding a construction freeze and that Israel is obligated to act in accordance with the Road Map.  The Road Map stipulates, in addition to a halt to Israeli settlement  activity, the PA must "declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere."  The claim that the PA must stop terrorism has been used by Israeli negotiators in the past.

Now, however, even though terrorism has continued nearly unabated - including not only by Hamas and Islamic Jihad but also by Abbas-led Fatah - Israel has now agreed to stop all Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, as well as in many of the outlying neighborhoods of its capital city.

The Army Radio report noted that Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had tried to explain at last month's Annapolis conference that Har Homa should not be included in the construction ban, as it is an integral part of Jerusalem.  However, the Americans and the PA did not accept this stance, and Olmert therefore decided to fall in line with the Bush Administration.

US President George W. Bush is set to visit Israel in less than two weeks, on January 9.

Politically Uncomfortable
The publication of Olmert's new orders is politically uncomfortable for him, as he fears that the rightward-leaning Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) parties will again threaten to quit the government in response.  Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu leaders have said in the past that their demand for full Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is unconditional.

Growing and Thriving
Some 2,500 families currently live in Har Homa, and there are plans for another 4,000.  Har Homa is Jerusalem's south-eastern corner - south of Ramat Rachel and north of Bethlehem, and east of Gilo.  It is encircled by some Arab villages, such as Tzur Baher, Biet Sahour and Um Tuba.  It is considered the newest bastion of religious-Zionism, with three religious youth groups, two synagogues, many informal daily prayer services, two religious schools, Talmudei Torah, nurseries, and an abundance of Torah classes.  Two yeshivot, Har HaMor and Mekor Chaim, plan to relocate to Har Homa.