Jerusalem Planning Committee to Hold First Meet Since Biden's Visit

Jerusalem mayor, in Washington, says construction in East Jerusalem will continue, despite U.S. pressure.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee will convene next week, marking the first time such meeting will take place since the diplomatic crisis with the United States erupted following the announcement of Jerusalem building plans during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel.

After the Interior Ministry announced the building of 1,600 new housing units in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in East Jerusalem last month, which sparked an uproar in the international arena, the Prime Minister ordered the planning and construction committee to halt all deliberations in order to prevent future mishaps.

At this moment, two meetings are scheduled for the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee. The first meeting, which will take place on Tuesday, will deal with bigger plans and not with building plans for East Jerusalem. During the second meeting, on Thursday, the committee will discuss plans for a small number of housing units in the eastern part of the city, although it is yet unknown whether the plans are meant for Arabs or Jews.

According to Jerusalem architects and contractors, the fear of the diplomatic crisis with the United States caused the system to act "hysterically," and even plans with no potential to cause national harm were postponed.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told Haaretz that construction in East Jerusalem will continue, despite U.S. pressure for a building freeze.

Barkat, on a visit in Washington, said that it is impossible to prevent a city such as Jerusalem from growing.

"We are going to build, we are not going to stop it, it's illegal to stop it," Barkat said. "And we'll continue to do the best and the right thing for the city of Jerusalem."

Barkat also denied reports that a de facto building freeze is in effect, after two Jerusalem officials said on Monday that Israel has ceased new construction in the city's disputed eastern sector - despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's declarations to the contrary.

Construction in East Jerusalem has been a major sticking point between Israel and the U.S. since Israel infuriated Washington last month by announcing a major new East Jerusalem housing development during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Barkat met Wednesday with Republican congressmen Eric Cantor and Peter Roskam. Both Cantor and Roskam were critical of the Obama administration's pressure on Israel to freeze contruction in East Jerusalem.

"There is a dynamic that is going on and it's very important to us to reaffirm that Israel is an ally, Israel is not a project," Roskam said. "There are people in this city [Washington] who view Israel as a project, as a stumbling block, and we are here to say: no no no, this is an ally and we need to do everything we can to reaffirm this relationship."

Cantor said that many in Congress disagree with Obama's stance on Jerusalem.

"The supporters of the Israel-US relationship on the both sides of the aisle were a little taken aback by this administration's emphasis on construction in Jerusalem, especially in Jewish neighborhoods, given the larger challenges that the US and Israel face in region, especially the existential threat posed by Iran and its terrorist proxies," Cantor said. "[There is] strong bipartisan support on the history of united Jerusalem."

Barkat said that construction plans are a municipal matter, not a national one.

"I have no problem to share my input and take government's input and that's fine, but we don't report to prime minister," he said. "It doesn't work like that."

Israel annexed East Jerusalem, the site of sacred shrines holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, after capturing it in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Some 180,000 Israelis now live in Jewish neighborhoods built there in the past four decades, and about 2,000 more live in the heart of traditionally Arab neighborhoods.

The Palestinians, the U.S. and the rest of the international community do not recognize the annexation.

Netanyahu, however, has said repeatedly that East Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any peace deal, a position the Palestinians reject.