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Building Freeze Thaws during Netanyahu's Washington Visit

Israel again okays or advances plans for new homes in United Jerusalem while Netanyahu visits Obama, but it has not caused a crisis – yet.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 5/23/2011, 9:43 AM / Last Update: 5/23/2011, 10:45 AM

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Israel again has approved nearly 2,000 new homes for Judea and Samaria while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visits Washington, but unlike the past, the plans have not caused a crisis – so far.

Prime Minister Netanyahu gave the go-ahead to a Jerusalem committee to advance projects for 1,550 new housing units in Har Homa in southern Jerusalem and in Pisgat Ze’ev, in the northern section of the capital. The Jerusalem's Planning and Construction Committee held a hearing on projects last week, at the same time the Prime Minister was preparing to leave for his visit to U.S. President Barack Obama.

In addition, Peace Now says Defense Minister Ehud Barak has signed documents approving construction of 294 new homes in the hareidi religious city of Beitar Illit, on the western edge of Gush Etzion and southwest of Jerusalem.

Almost every official visit to the United States the past year has coincided with the approval or advancement of projects for new homes for Jews in United Jerusalem Judea and Samaria. The timing often created a crisis and tension between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Washington, but this time the media and Washington officials have played down or ignored the reports, an indication that the Palestinian Authority demand of a building freeze is a dead issue.

"The authorization…of plans…for more than 1,500 units constitutes a clear message of Israel to the entire world,'' said Yair Gabai, a member of an Interior Ministry planning committee that discussed the building plans in an interview with Voice of Israel government radio. "Jerusalem isn't for sale, and isn't up for negotiations. And anyone who fantasizes about its division isn't connected to reality."

The project for 625 new apartments in Pisgat Ze’ev was approved by the committee last December and angered the Obama administration. The committee met this time to hear public objections, despite –or perhaps because of – the timing of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit.

The 294 new homes for Beitar Illit, the largest city in Judea and Samaria outside of Maaleh Adumim, are a small step towards correcting a severe housing shortage there.

Peace Now also said Defense Minister Barak has approved a new project for homes for the elderly and for a shopping center in Efrat, the largest community in Gush Etzion and located ten minutes south of Bethlehem.

The Defense Ministry did not deny the report and stated, "Since the end of the freeze period [last September] a few building permits have been approved for communities situated in the [settlement] blocs to meet their living needs."

The large Jewish population centers in Judea and Samaria and in United Jerusalem have become the focus of President Obama’s vision for creating the Palestinian Authority as a country within Israel’s borders. Last week, he flatly stated that a new state should be "based on" the 1949 Armistice Lines that existed until the Six Day War in 1967, adding that the final borders should include "mutually agreed swaps" of land. He did not specify whether these swaps would include Israel's large Jewish population centers in Judea and Samaria.

Prime Minister Netanyahu told the president that the 1949-1967 borders are “indefensible,” and President Obama then changed the emphasis of the language in his speech to American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Sunday morning, saying that the 1949-1967 borders were not necessarily the fixed borders for Israel.