JTA Reports Israel Has Frozen E. Jerusalem Construction

JERUSALEM, April 27, 2010 (JTA) – Israel has frozen new Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that building would not stop, according to municipal officials.

The Associated Press cited two Jerusalem city officials in an article released Monday as saying that a de facto freeze had been put in place.

One city councilman told the AP that Jerusalem City Hall officials told him that they had received a verbal order of a construction freeze from the Prime Minister’s Office. Another councilman told the AP that the two committees that review construction plans for the city have met infrequently since last month’s visit by Vice President Joe Biden, during which the announcement of the approval of housing construction in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem caused tension between Netanyahu and the White House.

Meir Margalit, a city councilman from the dovish Meretz Party, told the AP that “The government ordered the Interior Ministry immediately after the Biden incident to not even talk about new construction for Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. It’s not just that building has stopped: The committees that deal with this are not even meeting anymore.”

Projects under construction would be completed, Margalit said.

Another councilman, Meir Turujamen, who sits on the Interior Ministry committee that approves building plans, said the committee, which had been meeting weekly, has not met since the Biden visit.

“I wrote a letter about three weeks or a month ago asking [Interior Minister Eli] Yishai why the committee isn’t convening,” he said. “To this day I haven’t received an answer.”

President Obama reportedly asked Netanyahu to declare a freeze on eastern Jerusalem construction in order to bring the Palestinians back to proximity talks on a peace agreement during their meeting last month at the White House. The Palestinians have said they will not enter new indirect talks with Israel until Jewish construction is halted in eastern Jerusalem.

Netanyahu had rejected an Obama administration call for a total construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem in a message conveyed recently to the White House, according to The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu did agree, however, to undertake confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians, including allowing the opening of Palestinian Authority institutions in eastern Jerusalem, turning over more West Bank land to Palestinian security control and discussing core issues such as permanent borders and the status of Jerusalem during indirect peace talks instead of waiting for direct negotiations.

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