Plans for Three East Jerusalem Housing Projects Put on Hold

The Jerusalem planning and building committee was supposed to have considered three plans concerning the neighborhoods of Har Homa and Armon Hanatziv at its meeting yesterday.

The Jerusalem planning and building committee yesterday took three plans for construction in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem off its agenda, saying that the plans were not yet ripe for discussion.

The committee was supposed to have considered three plans concerning the neighborhoods of Har Homa and Armon Hanatziv at its meeting yesterday.

The first called for construction of nine public buildings and 50 housing units in Har Homa. The second involved a new road to link this neighborhood with Hebron Road, a major Jerusalem artery; that would open the way for constructing hundreds of new housing units.

The third called for expanding Armon Hanatziv to the south by building 150 new housing units.

But Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon, the committee chairman, announced just before the meeting that the three plans had been taken off the agenda. Kahlon said the plans weren't "ripe," but city councilmen on both left and right told Haaretz yesterday they believe diplomatic considerations were behind the move.

The Jerusalem planning authorities have been known to avoid discussing politically sensitive construction plans before.

This tendency increased sharply after a major diplomatic crisis erupted between Israel and the United States because the planning committee approved the construction of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the city. Ever since, the Prime Minister's Office has reportedly been monitoring the planning authorities to ensure there were no further diplomatic faux pas.

Outside interference?

Elisha Peleg, a city councilman for the Likud party, told Haaretz yesterday he found Kahlon's explanation unconvincing. "I fear that what we are seeing here is political and diplomatic intervention in planning processes, which damages the provision of services to these neighborhoods' residents," he said. "This is a case of outside interference in decision making, and I take an extraordinarily grave view of this."

Peleg spoke yesterday to Mayor Nir Barkat and asked him to raise the issue at the city council meeting on Thursday.

Another council member, Joseph "Pepe" Alalu (Meretz ), told Haaretz he also believes someone intervened in the decision. "For me, the main player here is not the world, but the Palestinians," he said. "For the Palestinians, the continued construction causes very serious damage, especially in Har Homa, which is outside the political consensus."

Alalu noted that Har Homa is the only Jerusalem neighborhood on which Israeli and Palestinian negotiators failed to agree during Ehud Olmert's term as prime minister, as revealed by the "Palestine Papers" recently released by Al Jazeera.

But the Jerusalem municipality insisted in an official statement that the plans were removed from the agenda only because they were not yet ready for discussion.