Days before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's departure for Washington, Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim announced Friday that his ministry will issue a tender on Sunday for the construction of hundreds of housing units in two controversial East Jerusalem neighborhoods: 120 units in Har Homa and 700 units in Pisgat Ze'ev.
Both Har Homa and Pisgat Ze'ev are under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality, but are situated beyond the green line. Tens of thousands of people currently reside in each of them.
In an interview with "Kol Hai" radio Friday, Boim said that he was waiting for the authorization of the defense minister before issuing an additional tender for the construction of 600 apartments in the settlement of Beitar Ilit, south of East Jerusalem, which is not under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality. Boim said that "the decision to issue tenders was meant as a gift to the city on the 41st anniversary of its emancipation."
The prime minister has frozen construction plans in both Har Homa and Pisgat Ze'ev, largely at the request of the United States over concerns that construction in these disputed areas could derail peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Last year, a tender was issued by Israel for the construction of 300 housing units in Har Homa, sparking harsh international criticism. Consequently, Olmert instructed that all future construction plans beyond the green line must be personally approved by him. He wrote at the time "construction, new building, expansion, preparation of plans, publication of residency tenders and confiscation of land stemming from other settlement activities in the (West Bank) area will not go forward and will not be implemented without requesting and receiving in advance approval by the defense minister and the prime minister."
Earlier Friday, Palestinian sources confirmed that Olmert will hold a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before he leaves for Washington Monday. The meeting will be closed, according to reports, without the negotiation teams headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia. The two leaders will reportedly discuss the issues that Olmert will later bring up before U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Palestinian negotiator and Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Friday that the meeting between the two leaders would include all final-status issues as well as Egyptian efforts to broker an unofficial truce between Israel and militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
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