Jerusalem Building Committee Gives Green Light to Mount of Olives Yeshiva Expansion

The decision on a petition by settlers to construct four residential buildings on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem will be delayed and is not expected before the end of the month, following yesterday's counter-petition against the proposal by Meretz in the city council.

Yesterday, Meretz appealed against the request of HaMa'ayan, a firm supported by the Elad settlement organization, for the construction in East Jerusalem, resulting in a decision to hold another vote of the city council.

This time, the city mayor, Nir Barkat, will be required to take a clear stance on his view on new Jewish construction in East Jerusalem.

Sources in the municipality maintain that the matter is apolitical, and has to do with privately owned land, but sources in Meretz say they hope the political leadership will pressure Barkat to reject the request for new construction, at least temporarily.

Meanwhile, there is confidence on the right that approval of the construction will be finalized in the near future.

At the vote of the municipal committee for planning and construction on Monday it was decided to authorize four plans that will expand the built-up area in the Beit Orot yeshiva complex, which is situated at the edge of the Palestinian village of A-Tur. Accordingly, four three-storey structures will be built, with a total capacity of 24 apartments.

The yeshiva's management refused to clearly answer yesterday whether this would constitute the core of a new neighborhood that would be built close to the yeshiva, or simply buildings for the families of those studying or employed by the institution.

Backed by Elad

The four plans approved yesterday by the local planning committee, which is headed by deputy mayor Kobi Kahalon, were filed in 2008 by a company whose full title is HaMa'ayan Tourism Enterprises Ltd.

The company is backed by Elad, whose focus is the advancement of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian neighborhoods in the city.

Kahalon told Haaretz yesterday that "the authorizations were given on the basis of the recommendations of the professional echelon at the municipality, and have nothing to do with political aims."

However, criticism from politicians has intensified following the granting of building permission. Meretz party chairman, MK Haim Oron, said yesterday that "the management and leadership of a city as complex and tense as Jerusalem requires a great deal more responsibility, sense, and restraint than what has been displayed in recent months by Nir Barkat. With all due respect to Barkat, he should leave the political arena and the issue of building in East Jerusalem to the government."

Another deputy of Barkat, Yosef "Pepe" Alalo (Meretz), who appealed against the decision, said "the committee's decision has terrible implications. At a time when it is possible to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, at a time when everyone is pressing for renewal of the talks, and Bibi [Netanyahu] too may have new intentions for the negotiations, the addition of 24 housing units could only do harm."

On the other hand, the Likud city council faction chairman, Elisha Peleg, said in response to the Meretz appeal that "if there is someone who would like to bring this issue to the council plenum, no problem. The decision meets all the requirements. Netanyahu himself said that construction in East Jerusalem will continue, and even if he says he will not authorize the construction he will not be able to prevent it in the case of private construction. In my view, all Jewish construction in East Jerusalem distances the idea of a possible division of Jerusalem as part of a permanent settlement, and only this way will we be able to keep Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty."

Meanwhile, Peace Now reported yesterday a new plan to pave a road that will link the Pizgat Ze'ev neighborhood to Route 443, a main highway.

Residents in the area of Beit Hanina have already filed a petition against the road, and Peace Now described it as being a "road for Jews only."

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that banning Palestinians from using Route 443 should be rescinded.

A spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality said last night that the new road is meant to serve both Jews and Arabs.