Silwan Emil Salman
A view of the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan Photo by Emil Salman
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not given the Jerusalem municipality permission to demolish homes in the eastern Arab neighborhoods on the basis of political reasons, Mayor Nir Barkat said on Tuesday.

"As of now, the Prime Minister's Bureau does not permit the demolition of homes," Barkat told the State Control Committee. "The bottom line is that the Jerusalem municipality can not carry out any demolitions unless accompanied by the police."

This was the first time Barkat has openly admitted to the fact that the Prime Minister's Bureau has interfered with the matter of home demolitions in East Jerusalem. The city carried out just 20 home demolitions in the last year, compared to an average of 70 to 100 in the years prior.

The committee had met to discuss a recent State Comptroller report criticizing the municipality for allowing illegal construction in area over the last decade. Barkat explained that due to budget constraints, the municipality was only able to demolish some 100 homes in a year – including only dozens in East Jerusalem.

"Therefore we focus on the most extreme and brutal cases," Barkat told the committee.

Barkat himseld has faced criticism and demands for explanations from the U.S. after the Jerusalem municipal planning committee decided to destroy 22 houses in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, which it says were built illegally.

The city's plan was to raze the homes and construct a tourism center in their place. An additional 66 homes built without the proper permits would receive approval retroactively.

In a statement on the matter over the summer, the U.S. State Department said that the decision would derail the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.