Officials Lay Cornerstone for New Jewish East Jerusalem Neighborhood

Nir Hasson
Haaretz Staff
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Nir Hasson
Haaretz Staff

The cornerstone for a new East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood was placed on Monday, in a ceremony attended by Knesset members, Jerusalem councilmen, as well as former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Initial construction for the new neighborhood, called Beit Orot and located near the Beit Orot Yeshiva on Mount Scopus, called for 24 new housing units to be built near the Augusta Victoria Hospital.

Huckabee, who was a Republican presidential candidate in 2008, said at the site that it was inconceivable to him, as an American, that there's a discussion over where in Jerusalem a Jew can or cannot live.

Speaking at the ceremony, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said that not only does construction in Jerusalem "not an impediment to peace, it brings it closer," adding that the more Israel builds "the more peace there will be."

"That is why this neighborhood is only the cornerstone. It will serve as a model for the resurgence of Jerusalem's construction swing," Hershkowitz said.

Also addressing the crowd, Jerusalem's Deputy Mayor David Harari said that the "housing units to be built here are only the beginning of the road," adding that talks were underway "to turn it into a substantial neighborhood."

Earlier this month, Haaretz learned that the Jerusalem planning commission was expected to approve a new large-scale construction project beyond the Green Line.

The plan, called Gilo: Southern Slopes, includes the construction of 1,400 housing units on an area between the neighborhood of Gilo toward the Cremisan Monastery, and the settlement of Har Gilo. It is expected to draw widespread international criticism.

More than a year ago, the United States expressed its strong opposition to another development plan in the area, one on the western slopes of Gilo, which included the construction of 900 housing units.

Permission for the development by the planning commission drew international criticism.

That was the first in a series of clashes with the United States over Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, which culminated with the building project at Ramat Shlomo, approved during the visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Following that crisis, the planning commission altered its decision-making guidelines in order to avoid diplomatic bungles in the future.

The planning commission, which is answerable to the municipality, is expected to approve the new development plan, which includes building 780 housing units during the first stage and 600 more at a later stage.

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. Credit: Emil Salman / Jini