A plan to build thousands of new housing units in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo is being advanced by private developers with the blessing of the Jerusalem municipality, according to the Haaretz newspaper.
The plan, currently in its initial stages, includes the construction of some 2,500 housing units in the area east of the neighborhood.
The plan, first reported by the Walla Hebrew language news website, covers an area of some 200 dunam (50 acres). Most of the designated land is under private ownership, and some 30 percent belongs to Palestinian Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 and was given to the state of Israel under the Absentee Property Law.
Kol Yisrael radio reported that after eight years of efforts to promote the project, the chairman of the local committee in Jerusalem, Meir Turgeman, announced that he plans to promote the construction as planned and that it would soon be submitted to the Planning and Building Committee.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) welcomed the initiative but added that it was only the beginning of a long journey.
“We must wait until the plan is presented to the local committee for planning and construction of the Jerusalem Municipality and then to the district committee,” he said, according to Kol Yisrael.
The United States has been critical of Israel's planned construction in Gilo, having recently used unusually harsh language in condemning plans to build 770 new housing units in the neighborhood and describing them as “corrosive” to peace.
Israel later rejected the international criticism over its planned construction in Jerusalem as “lacking any factual basis”.
“The claim that the construction in Gilo undermines the solution of two states for two peoples is lacking any factual basis and diverts attention from the real obstacle to peace - the Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state under any borders,” it said.