AtarotYonatan Sindel/ Flash 90

Ofer Berkowitz, head of the Hitorerut (Awakening) party in the Jerusalem city council and a member of the district committee, discussed the decision to freeze a project to establish a new Jewish neighborhood in the Jerusalem suburb of Atarot.

In an interview with Israel National News, Berkowitz referred to reports according to which Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, is examining the possibility of reopening the airport - for both Israelis and Palestinians.

"This is a very important strategic plan for resolving the housing crisis," he said. "There is no other land reserve on which ten thousand housing units can be built in Jerusalem, especially when it comes to flat land with reasonable development costs. We have been promoting the issue for years. The mayor did not permit the decision to be advanced in the city council, in my opinion because of political interests," Berkowitz alleged, adding that, "two weeks ago the project was approved by the city council and this week it passed to the district committee. But they came to this discussion without an environmental memorandum which is a necessary condition for approval. I thought it was right to approve the plan with certain conditions related to the presentation of the memorandum, but they decided to suspend the procedure entirely."

Berkowitz expressed the hope that this incident does not reflect national policy in the face of American pressure against the venture. "I very much hope that the government did not use the environmental issue as an excuse. We must not succumb to external dictatorship in this matter and the statements that came from the government were not sufficient on this regard - and so will will continue to promote the housing solution in Jerusalem via construction in Atarot."

He stated further that, "It is clear that there was government interference here. Several members of the district committee are representatives of various government ministries. I think someone made a mistake here, one that should not have occurred, and it is not clear if it happened intentionally. An interim version of the plan could be approved and the memorandum promoted at the same time. But when I hear about the pressure, I'm afraid that there may be another issue here that affects the decision-making, and I admit that I am concerned."

Berkowitz also referred to reports that the Transportation Minister intends to re-establish the airport instead of approving the construction of a residential neighborhood, and to make the airport one that will be used by both Palestinians and Israelis. Minister Issawi Frej has also alleged that establishing the neighborhood will interfere with the peace process whereas a joint airport project could bring peace closer.

"Atarot is part of Jerusalem, which has been united since 1967 and is under full Israeli sovereignty," he said. "The likelihood that we will establish an airport there is low, mainly for security reasons - the same reasons that led to the closing of the old airport following the second intifada. I think these attempts to make such last-minute proposals are not serious. There may be good intentions behind them, but resolving the housing crisis and strengthening settlement and sovereignty are extremely important. Anyone who suddenly turns up with a last-minute plan with zero feasibility is clearly not taking this seriously."