A plan by the Israel Lands Authority to approve the construction of 1,000 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev have been modified due to intense pressure from the White House.
Harsh criticism emanating from the office of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forced the Israel Lands Authority this week to trim the plan down to only 600 new units for Jewish families. Another 400 units will be built for Arab families.
Pisgat Ze'ev, home to some 11,000 families, is one of the largest neighborhoods in the capital.
“We have relayed our strong concerns to the government of Israel, that this kind of activity, particularly as we try to relaunch meaningful negotiations, is counterproductive and undermines trust between the parties,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told journalists at a briefing on Monday.
Crowley implied that the Obama administration intends to force Israel to comply with the Palestinian Authority demand that Israel cease all construction by Jews in any part of Israel that was restored to the country during the 1967 Six-Day War. The PA demand was delivered as a precondition for resuming final status talks; the aforementioned areas encompass all of Judea, Samaria, and major areas in Jerusalem as well, including large blocs in which Jewish holy sites are located.
Local residents said they were only told last week that the plans for the new housing units had been altered and that nearly half would go to Arab families, rather than Jews. The reason, they said, was the Authority's apparent desire to avoid a confrontation with local Arabs who own some of the land.
Yael Antebi, a member of the Jerusalem City Council and a resident of Pisgat Ze'ev, noted, "What we are creating with our own hands is a mixed neighborhood in the middle of Pisgat Ze'ev – that's unacceptable. I really hope that the mayor, who is a really courageous guy – as we see the decisions he has made in regards to eastern Jerusalem... we hope that he will stand with us on this issue."
Antebi adds that the United States is pressuring Israel to enforce a double standard for Arabs and Jews when it comes to illegal construction, as well as legal construction.
"We can see [from] here the Shu'afat refugee camp and Antebi. The construction is coming closer and closer to the separation wall which is located inside the official municipal vicinity of Jerusalem,” she said. “Nevertheless, the Jerusalem municipality's hands are tied – they can't come in and enforce the law. And so what we have here is separate law enforcement for Jews and Arabs."