The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee on Monday approved a plan to construct 500 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood situated over the Green Line in East Jerusalem.
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The construction plan is one of two in East Jerusalem declared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, reportedly as part of the response to Palestinian violence in the capital. The original plan for Ramat Shlomo was for 640 housing units, but the planning committee has only approved 500. The U.S. administration has already condemned construction in both areas.
The construction plan is to extend over 76 dunams (19 acres) in the northern part of the ultra-Orthodox Ramat Shlomo neighborhood and will bring it very close to the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina. This plan was discussed a few years ago but rejected when it was realized that in order to build the neighborhood, land would have to be expropriated from Palestinian owners. That is because while the neighborhood itself is built on Jewish-owned land, the road to it passes through Palestinian-owned land. However, the area of the plan was earmarked for future construction in Jerusalem’s new master plan, despite vigorous objections from environmental groups.
Although the areas in question are privately owned, the plan was submitted to the district planning committee by the Jerusalem municipality and Moriah, a municipality-owned infrastructure company. Planning officials said Sunday they believed the submission was made by these bodies so the expropriation of land could be moved forward.
Most of the area planned for the new neighborhood has been marked in an urban nature survey by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel as Atarot Stream South. The SPNI survey describes the site as rich in terms of nature, with a herd of deer, hyraxes and other mammals, and as an important feeding and hunting zone for birds that winter in Jerusalem and nest there in spring. It is also home to a variety of reptiles and insects, the report states, and is one of the westernmost sites where hyraxes have been observed.
The new plan joins an older one to expand Ramat Shlomo that was approved by the district planning committee in 2010. That sparked a major diplomatic crisis with the United States because the approval came during an official visit by Vice President Joe Biden to Israel.
A crisis with the United States also broke out last week over the decision to advance the current plan. A few hours after the prime minister announced the construction in East Jerusalem, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that such construction is not “conducive to what they state they want to achieve, which is peace in the region and a two-state solution.” Psaki said U.S. policy was clear and “continues to oppose unilateral steps that would prejudge the outcome of negotiations on Jerusalem.”
The European Union also criticized the planned construction in East Jerusalem and asked Israel for clarifications.