U.S. 'dismayed' at Israel plan to build 900 homes beyond Green Line
Israel disregards specific U.S. objection, approves plan to expand Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood.
The White House responded angrily Tuesday to Israel's plan to build 900 new housing units beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem, despite specific objections from the U.S., saying that "we are dismayed."
In a statement, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs voiced the U.S.'s disappointment with "the Jerusalem Planning Committee's decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem."
The Jerusalem municipal planning committee approved the construction plan Tuesday despite an expose in Israel's Yedioth Aharonot newspaper earlier in the day revealing that the U.S. has specifically objected to the construction outlined in the plan.
"At a time when we are working to relaunch negotiations," the White House spokesman went on to say, "these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations."
"The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes," the statement continued.
"Our position is clear: the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties," he added.
State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly also voiced disapproval, saying "we understand the Israeli point of view about Jerusalem but we think all sides right now should refrain from these actions. We're calling on both parties to refrain from action and from rhetoric that would impede this process. It's a challenging time and we need to focus on what's important."
The plan - named "Gilo's western slopes" - will account for a significant expansion of the neighborhood. The planned 900 housing unites will be built in the form of 4-5 bedroom apartments, in an effort to lure relatively well-off residents.
The plan was initiated by the Israel Land Administration, and has received an initial green light, but on Tuesday the authorization was finalized.
The additional housing units are only part of the planned expansion of Gilo. In fact, the majority of apartments slated to be built in Jerusalem in the coming years will be located in Gilo. Other building plans in various stages of approval include some 4,000 new housing units in Gilo and adjacent areas.
According to sources in the planning committee, extensive building plans stem from the scrapping of the Safdie plan, which would have seen the city expand westward. The Safdie plan, named after architect Moshe Safdie, included over 20,000 housing units on open areas covering 26,600 dunams (some 6,600 acres) west of the city on natural and planted forests near Ramot. The plan had come under attack by environmental groups, and was later discarded.
According to the sources, this created a need for new land for construction, which can be found in the southern parts of the city and beyond the Green Line.
The chairman of the Gilo community administration, Moshe Ben Shushan, voiced amazement at the American disapproval, saying "this is a trend of interference in Israel's policies. I have never thought of Gilo as a settlement."
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Tuesday that there was no point in negotiating while Israel expands Jewish neighborhoods in the part of Jerusalem the Palestinians want for their capital.
He said the Israeli move shows that it is meaningless to resume negotiations.
Over recent days, American officials have shown a tremendous amount of interest in the construction plans, and have even approached left-wing activists for information.