The Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality are hard at work on the goal of offering for sale 1,500 housing units in the capital's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, the focus of international censure, before the January 22 elections. Plans for the project, which is over the Green Line, were approved last month by the National Planning and Building Council, causing tension between Jerusalem and the West.
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According to the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Bakehila, the Housing and Construction Ministry, Israel Lands Administration and Jerusalem municipality are trying to dramatically short-circuit the issuing of construction tenders for the project so they can start marketing the prospective homes within 10 days. Government officials confirmed to Haaretz that efforts to do so were underway, but estimate they have a low chance of coming to fruition for legal, technical and policy reasons. According to them, it is doubtful that Netanyahu will want to risk a confrontation with the U.S. government prior to elections.
The efforts to market the 1,500 units in the ultra-Orthodox Ramat Shlomo neighborhood are being led by Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias, alongside Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Also on the agenda are the construction plans, also being promoted by the Jerusalem municipality, for 800 housing units in Gilo in south Jerusalem, but the chances of them coming to pass before the election are even lower. These plans are in addition to the approval of 3,000 housing units in the West Bank over the past few weeks by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
"The working assumption is that a construction freeze in building over the Green Line is on the way," said sources connected to these plans to Haaretz.
Journalist Yaakov Rivlin revealed on Wednesday in Bakehila that "two weeks ago a joint decision was reached between the Housing and Construction Ministry, the Israel Lands Administration and the Jerusalem municipality to take advantage of the timing and to push through the construction plans for Ramat Shlomo as quickly as possible. The basic assumption is that even if Bibi [Netanyahu] would decide to oppose the move, his hands would be tied because of the elections."
Usually, tender preparations take half a year or more, but at the Housing and Construction Ministry they are convinced they've found a way to complete the process within days, and no later than election day, January 22.
The plans were delivered from the ministry to the Moriah Development Company. Haaretz was informed that the ministry is relying on an old agreement between itself and Moriah allowing it to develop the specific area in north Jerusalem, which is part private land and part state land. The advantage: a development company is more flexible in dealing with tenders and other procedures that bind the Housing and Construction Ministry's actions and slow the process down. The ministry's legal adviser confirmed the contact with Moriah.
The company, in collaboration with the municipality and the ILA, is trying to complete the plans and market them as soon as possible. According to the agreement with Moriah, the company will carry out the planning and development of the neighborhood. Construction itself will be carried out by contractors.
The Housing and Construction Ministry had no comment by press time.