In About-face Ahead of Kerry Speech, Jerusalem Okays New Housing for Jews in Palestinian Neighborhood

Three-story building approved Jewish settlers in predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem after earlier vote was reportedly canceled at Netanyahu's request.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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An Israeli flag hangs on the wall of a building that was taken over by settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
Residency – just like citizenship – didn’t protect Palestinians from the theft of their land and expulsion from their homes in the Est Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Just ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's planned speech about Middle East diplomacy, Jerusalem's city planning commission approved a plan on Wednesday to build a three-story building for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem's predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.

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The vote on the Silwan project took place despite the commission's cancellation of a vote on hundreds of other housing projects for both Jews and Arabs in East Jerusalem earlier in the day. The Jerusalem municipality denied a Reuters report that a request to put off the vote on these other projects had come from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Silwan settlement project had been introduced by the Ateret Cohanim organization, and its approval had been postponed many times in the past due to political pressure. Despite it being one of the more sensitive projects from a diplomatic standpoint, the commission went ahead and approved it.

The plan will permit Ateret Cohanim to construct a new building right in the heart of crowded Silwan, and expand the Jewish presence there.

Kerry and Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014. Credit: AP

The property, located near the site of controversial Beit Yonathan, was sold to Ateret Cohanim by the custodian of absentee properties, without a tender.

Alaa Mahajneh, an attorney representing Palestinians who live near the planned project, that the settlers had not proven they owned the plot of land where the building will go up, and that there was insufficient parking in the area.

The commission decided to grant its approval conditional upon an examination of these issues.

"The atmosphere in the discussion was very hostile," Mahajneh said of the meeting adding that he foresaw more such projects going up "in the heart of (Palestinian) villages in Jerusalem."

>> Inside Israel's UN battle: U.K. pulled strings, Netanyahu warned New Zealand it was declaring war <<

Meanwhile, Haaretz has learned that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected Kerry’s proposal that the Quartet – the United States, Russia, the UN and the European Union – adopt the principles he will present in his speech.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel's Army Radio that if Kerry lays out principles for a peace deal, as he is expected to do in his speech, it will limit President-elect Donald Trump's ability to set his own policy.

Erdan blasted the Obama administration as "pro-Palestinian," saying officials "don't understand what's happening in the Middle East." He said the Obama administration's refusal to veto a the UN Security Council resolution, which calls settlements a flagrant violation of international law, "threatens the security of Israel."

Meanwhile, Oded Revivi, the foreign envoy of Israel's Yesha settlers council, called Kerry "a stain on American foreign policy" saying he was "ignorant of the issues."

Kerry's speech will take place 6 P.M. Wednesday afternoon, Israel time.

Read more:Netanyahu is dragging Israel into the abyss | Punishing the world for UN vote will be worse for Israel than BDS | World begins to rescue Israel from itself | Obama, where have you been for 8 wasted years? | Why the Palestinians are jubilant and Israel is spooked | Security Council punch knocks Netanyahu down from hubris to humiliation | What will the immediate ramifications of the UN resolution be?

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