Jerusalem’s preliminary approval on Monday for 130 new apartments in the southern neighborhood of Gilo, once a shooting target for Arabs aiming from the nearby town of Beit Jala during the Intifada, disproves rumors of a “de facto freeze” in the capital.
“As far as we know there is no freeze in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem municipality is continuing to build in all parts of city, both for Jews and for Arabs," according to Jerusalem spokesman Elie Isaacson.
Foreign media continue to refer to Gilo, as well as nearby Har Homa and other neighborhoods, as “east Jerusalem" although most of the Jewish homes in areas demanded by the Palestinian Authority are located in the northern and southern section of the capital.
Another 750 housing units are planned for those areas that are legally part of the city but not recognized by the United States, except for the Houses of Congress, and most of the international community as being under Israeli sovereignty.
U.S. President Barack Obama has labeled as “settlements” all of the areas demanded by the Palestinian Authority. They include neighborhoods built as far back as 40 years or more and are home to approximately 250,000 Jews.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has conditioned the resumption of talks for establishing a Palestinian Authority state on a building freeze that would halt building for Jews in the areas the PA demands, as well as all of Judea and Samaria.
Senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat issued a statement Tuesday that the Gilo project “represents an existential threat to the two- state solution.” Earlier in the day, Abbas warned that a continued Jewish presence in areas demanded by the PA constitutes a “time bomb.” However, the PA said no to land swaps and to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state this past weekend.
The housing development is in an area originally zoned for a hotel and has not received approval from the Interior Ministry. The issue rose several weeks ago and raised the ire of American officials.
However, the current diplomatic impasses in the Middle East has restricted Americans officials to making mild comments, saying that the "unilateral" actions by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel "are not helpful."
Reporters covering the State Department asked U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley Monday, "There was some new construction approved in East Jerusalem. Do you have anything to say about that?”
The spokesman stated, “Well, our position on that is very clear. We continue and encourage both sides to avoid unilateral steps that prejudice negotiations.”
The entire “diplomatic process” has consumed the Obama administration and international heads of state but has become seriously doubted and sometimes ridiculed by reporters covering the State Department.
When faced with critical questions, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley issued virtually the same statement that he has used over the past several weeks – “We continue to engage the parties in creating conditions for a return to negotiations.”
One reporter stated in a question that “Israeli sources say that the talks with the Americans are stalemated over the incentives regarding the renewal of settlement freeze.” Crowley answered, “As I said last week, this remains a work in progress.”