Israel Gives Final Go-ahead for 800 More Homes in East Jerusalem

Palestinians to decide whether to attend Wednesday's scheduled negotiating session; sources say Abbas leaning toward continuing talks.

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Israel's Interior Ministry gave final approval on Monday to a plan to build 890 new apartments in Gilo, a settlement neighborhood beyond the Green Line in southern Jerusalem, just one day before Palestinian leadership is slated to make a final decision on whether to attend Wednesday’s scheduled negotiating session.

It will be a long time before ground is broken on the project, as the next step is for the Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration to issue tenders for the work.

The plan, however, is especially problematic for the Palestinians because it will expand the boundaries of the neighborhood, located in the southern part of the city, in the direction of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala rather than placing the new buildings inside the neighborhood's current boundaries.

On Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas consulted with senior Palestinian Authority officials on how to respond to the announcement Israel made on Sunday, issuing new tenders for construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Palestinian sources said Abbas also discussed the issue with Martin Indyk, America’s special envoy for the talks, as well as other Western diplomats, including German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, with whom he met in Ramallah.

A senior Palestinian official said the dominant view among the Palestinian leadership is that there’s no place for resuming negotiations with Israel in light of the continued construction in the settlements. But Abbas is still leaning toward continuing the talks, on the basis of various promises he has received from the United States.

The same official said the final decision will be influenced by what happens on Tuesday with respect to Israel’s planned release of Palestinian prisoners.

Abbas sent messages on Monday, reassuring the families of prisoners whose names did not appear on the list of 26 to be released on Tuesday, saying he is certain all 104 of the veteran prisoners – those who have been in jail since before the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993 – will eventually be released. Their release does not depend solely on progress in the talks, he explained, since in exchange for their freedom, the PA has agreed to freeze all plans to seek action against Israel through UN institutions.
If Wednesday’s talks go forward as planned, Haaretz has learned that the Palestinians plan to demand the release of additional prisoners on top of the 104 to which Israel has already agreed. These additional prisoners will include senior Fatah official Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa’adat, the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The plan approved by the Interior Ministry on Monday, known as Gilo – Southern Slopes, is one of the largest building plans Jerusalem has seen recently. It won final approval from the regional planning and building committee in December, but the developers then sought to make several changes in the plan. About a month ago, ministry planning officials approved the revised plan, and on Monday, the ministry finally signed off on it and allowed it to be published.

Sources within the regional planning committee said the long lapse between the panel’s approval of the plan in December and the ministry’s final approval on Monday was due to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, which sought to delay the plan for fear of diplomatic pressure on Israel.

The decision came just a day after the Housing Ministry announced plans to publish tenders for 394 housing units in the West Bank and 793 in East Jerusalem, including an additional 400 in Gilo. Sources on the regional planning committee said those 400 units would also probably be built on the neighborhood’s southern slopes.

An archive photo of construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.Credit: Daniel Bar On

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