J'lem Construction Needed US OK

Story behind 700 new units in Jerusalem: Shas pressured Netanyahu, Netanyahu asked Obama, and one-time permission was granted.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 11:21 AM

Housing Minister Attias, Shas
Housing Minister Attias, Shas
Israel news photo

The story behind the recent announcement of 700 new housing units in Jerusalem does not paint a pretty picture for future construction in new Jerusalem neighborhoods. The new units are a result of strong pressure and even threats by coalition partner Shas, a request by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the U.S., one-time permission for a precise amount of housing units, and a coordinated, weak condemnation.

The information comes from an unnamed senior source in the Prime Minister’s Bureau and sources close to Housing Minister Ariel Attias, reports correspondent Haggai Huberman. Attias of Shas reportedly told Netanyahu that his party would no longer be able to tolerate what had become a “construction freeze” in Jerusalem – and that he would make a public statement to this effect if the situation continued.

In fact, two months ago, Minister Attias told a television interviewer that not a single construction project had been authorized in eastern Jerusalem since Netanyahu took office at the end of March.

Sources close to Attias said that he was motivated by fears that he would be severely criticized by Shas supporters. They added that because of the ultimatum Attias issued Netanyahu, the Prime Minister agreed to issue the housing tenders – but said that they must be coordinated with the Americans.

The tenders in question, announced nearly a month ago, were for nearly 700 units: 198 in three projects in Pisgat Ze’ev, 377 in N’veh Yaakov, and 117 in Har Homa. All three neighborhoods are in areas liberated by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967.

The PM’s bureau source said that the numbers were determined in coordination with the Obama Administration, after Netanyahu explained that he must find a way to appease the nationalist and Shas camps regarding the freeze in Judea and Samaria.

Two other tenders – 150 units in Pisgat Ze’ev and 130 in Har Homa – are still in limbo, according to Housing Ministry sources, because adding them would mean that Israel exceeds the 700 approved by the United States.

Immediately following the announcement of the tenders, the U.S. government publicized a condemnation of sorts, stating that the US objects to new Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem and that Jerusalem’s final status must be resolved via bilateral negotiations with the support of the international community.

The PM’s Bureau source said that both the tender announcement and the condemnation were timed to coincide with the Christmas vacation, so that neither would receive much attention.