The Israel Lands Administration (ILA) recently published two construction tenders for Jerusalem in areas over the Green Line.
On Sunday, it published a tender for 440 apartments in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of the capital's East Talpiot suburb. The northern part of the Armon Hanatziv tender falls within no-man's land; the rest is over the Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 border. The land was expropriated in 1973 from Palestinian residents of the nearby villages of Sur Baher and Jabal Mukaber, which are within the Jerusalem city limits. Final approval for the plan came in April 2005. The outermost plots in this area are only a few dozen meters from these villages, which Vice Premier Haim Ramon has said are slated to be transfered to the Palestinian Authority in final-status negotiations.
The Gilo tender, issued last week, is for construction on a six-dunam (1.48- acre) plot of land for "hotels with an option to re-zone as residential." The entire area is over the Green Line and was expropriated in 1983, and the plan to build a hotel there was approved that same year.
After last month's crisis with the PA, the United States and other countries following a tender published for 300 housing units in Har Homa, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent an official letter on Sunday evening to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon in which he instructed them not to carry out any construction in the West Bank without prior authorization from him and the defense minister.
The letter stated that the directive applied to all new construction, expansion, preparation of plans, publication of tenders, expropriation of land, and that these items would now require "authorization by the defense minister and the prime minister." He noted that the instructions "do not apply to legally implemented actions or those with the goal of maintaining security or public order. The decision is in force until further notice or until the cabinet decides otherwise."
Boim said he "would like to draw attention to the fact that the prime minister's directive in his letter to various ministers, including the housing minister, deals only with construction in Judea and Samaria."
Olmert did not mention construction in Jerusalem in the letter. But when he informed the Kadima ministers of the letter on Sunday he said, "the wide-ranging directive with regard to Judea and Samaria will not touch Jerusalem, although in Jerusalem there is also an obligation to conduct things wisely and cautiously."
Government sources said Olmert's directive could be understood in various ways and did not necessarily apply to construction in East Jerusalem.
Olmert's bureau confirmed yesterday that the letter to Boim did not involve Jerusalem and that there was no prohibition on construction in the capital but that sensitivity should be shown with regard to construction in East Jerusalem.
Olmert said in the letter that it was in keeping with his statement to the cabinet on November 19, a few days before the Annapolis summit, that Israel would not build new settlements, would not expropriate land and would evacuate illegal outposts.
After receiving the letter, Simhon instructed the director general of the settlement division of the World Zionist Organization to update his bureau before any construction project is moved ahead in the West Bank, so he can submit it for approval.
A source in Olmert's bureau said construction would be authorized "only if we see it will not harm the chances for an agreement with the Palestinians." Olmert told Mahmoud Abbas as much in their meeting last week.
Palestinian negotiating team chief Ahmed Qureia told Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at their meeting Monday that he was very satisfied with the letter. Peace Now said in a statement that in the midst of peace talks, areas that would be part of the negotiations should not be built on.
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