Israel preparing to build in East Jerusalem – says it is not occupied

News agencies are reporting this evening that Israel has put out a call for bids “to build more than 300 new homes in a disputed east Jerusalem neighborhood”.

Actually, the area affected is Har Homa, just outside Bethlehem (which is just to the south of the main area of Jerusalem); the site is known in Arabic as Jebel Gheneim, and when Israel first began building on this hill top between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 1997 — in the middle of the Oslo process — the UN Security Council met in crisis session for weeks on the matter.

Har Homa settlement on Jebel Abu Gheneim - Ma'an Images

The Jebel Gheneim area was one of the most beautiful green wooded hilltops in Palestine, say the Palestinians. Now, it is covered with buildings, and a 10-or 12-story hotel has gone up recently, apparently to accomodate visitors.

The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ), which is actually located just inside The Wall in Bethlehem, offers these views:

ARIJ photo - Jebel Abu Gheneim in 1997

Here are two images of Jebel Abu Gheneim/Har Homa from 1997 posted on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website —
(1) the view of the green forest:

Har Homa - Jebel Abu Gheneim in 1997

(2) Planned construction – red indicates roads, green indicates open public areas, other colors indicate various construction plans

1997 aerial view from Israeli Foreign Ministry Website

AP reported today that “A Housing Ministry spokesman said 307 units would be built in Har Homa, a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem … Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he sent an urgent message to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking her to block the project from moving forward”.

However, Israel says this is not a settlement, so it will not be frozen, as Israel should do if it’s to fulfill its Phase One Road Map requirements. AP added that ” ‘Israel makes a clear distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem’, said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. ‘Israel has never made a commitment to limit our sovereignty in Jerusalem. Implementation of the first phase of the road map does not apply to Jerusalem’.” The AP news report is posted here.

Agence France Press reported that “The Palestinians slammed the move as an attempt to undermine the renewed peace drive which was officially launched after a seven-year hiatus at an international peace conference in the United States last week. ‘The Israel Land Administration has published a tender for the construction of 307 housing units in Har Homa’, an official in the housing ministry told AFP, referring to a neighbourhood in east Jerusalem. At the Annapolis conference last week, Israel and the Palestinians pledged to implement the 2003 roadmap plan, the first phase of which calls on Israel to freeze all settlement activity and for Palestinians to improve security … Israel does not consider construction in east Jerusalem — which it captured in the 1967 Six-Day war — as settlement growth because it annexed the Arab part of the Holy City shortly after the conflict [actually, Israel extended its administration to East Jerusalem in 1967, but it announced only in 1980 that Jerusalem would be Israel’s eternal and undivided capital — the UN declared this action null and void, and, despite Israel’s invitation, only three or four countries have moved their embassies to Jerusalem]. ‘The neighbourhood is under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality and does not require any authorisation of the defence ministry’, which issues construction permits for settlements in the West Bank, the official said. But the annexation of east Jerusalem has not been recognised by the international community, and Palestinians want to make it the capital of their future state. Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erakat lambasted the move, which comes a week before Israeli and Palestinian teams are to hold their first talks on a permanent peace deal which the sides aim to clinch by the end of 2008. ‘This blatant Israeli violation of the roadmap will destroy any trust among all the nations that have participated in the Annapolis conference’, Erakat said in a statement. ‘If Israel does not backtrack and cancel this settlement decision it will undermine the results of the Annapolis conference before they have even begun to be implemented’, he added”. The AFP report is here.

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