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Report: US Enforcing Construction Freeze in Jerusalem

The Hebrew press reports that US representatives have been checking enforcement of a ban on Jewish construction in Jerusalem.
By Avi Yellin
First Publish: 5/10/2010, 10:26 PM / Last Update: 5/11/2010, 10:24 AM

A recent Makor Rishon-Hatzofeh inquiry has uncovered that United States officials in Israel have been enforcing a de facto ban on Jewish construction in Jerusalem. In what is being seen by many Israelis as a clear violation of the Jewish state’s national sovereignty, American officials have been consistently “showing interest” in Israel’s construction plans in her capital.

Last November, at the commencement of the 10 month ban for Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, several reports circulated that American inspectors answering directly to U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell were visiting Jewish towns and villages in the region, asking questions and taking photographs. Today officials suspect that the same is taking place in many parts of Jerusalem.

While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and senior cabinet ministers vehemently deny all reports of an agreement to freeze construction in most of Jerusalem, the reality on the ground appears to tell a different story. No Jewish construction is currently being seen in any neighborhoods of the capital liberated by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, and no such construction seems to be planned for the foreseeable future.

The reason for the de facto construction freeze in Jerusalem is said in political circles to be the result of fear of a negative American reaction to Jewish building. The United States ambassador, the Jerusalem consul and other American officials have been meeting frequently with the relevant ministers over the last weeks and have been extracting from them detailed information on Jerusalem construction plans.

“This interest is not very pleasant,” said an anonymous source close to the matter. “Each minister understands the significance when an American official asks him about the nature of the next project, how many housing units it will include, when it will occur and so forth. Some ministers are also calculating their next step… They understand that a refusal on their part to meet American expectations could prove detrimental later on, especially if they are seeking major appointments. It would not be clever for a minister to get branded as the guy who said 'no' to the United States.”

Just prior to the Passover holiday, tenders for some 1,000 housing units in Ramot were expected to be released, but these were reportedly halted by a directive from the political echelon. A similar situation occurred with 130 housing units in Har Homa. Both projects were ready for immediate advancement but lacked the political approval to progress.

Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) confirmed to the Knesset last week that there is indeed a construction freeze in Jerusalem. In response to a question from Member of Knesset Uri Ariel (National Union) concerning the report that the government was refraining from releasing 1,000 housing units which had already been approved in the neighborhoods of Gilo, Har Homa, Pisgat Z'ev and Neve Yaakov, Attias confirmed that such information was correct.

“The last time apartments were put on the market was in December 2009,” the housing minister admitted, “and since then no housing units have been put on the market.”

MK Ariel, chairman of the parliamentary lobbying group for Jerusalem, sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he demanded that the premier allow construction in the capital despite intrusive American demands.

Knesset Committee Rejects Inspector Budget
Meanwhile,this week the Knesset Finance Committee rejected the Defense Ministry's fifth request to authorize the funding necessary for inspectors to enforce the ban on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. Coalition and opposition MKs, led by National Union's Uri Ariel, have demanded that Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) appear before the committee before the funding is brought to a vote.

Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, the coordinator of government activities in Judea and Samaria, attended the meeting to explain the need for the NIS 18 million in additional funds and claimed they were not exclusively for freeze inspectors.