It looks like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has already begun the delicate two-step into the wacky world of covert construction freezes.
Hebrew-language Israeli media reported Wednesday that a massive building project in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa was suddenly suspended — barely two days after Netanyahu got the nod to form the next government.
The City of Jerusalem and Israel Ministry of Housing and Construction both confirmed that two key planning sessions that were set for next week to discuss the next phase in the project have been canceled “for neither planning nor professional reasons,” Ynet reported.
Sources close to the project told the news outlet the plan was not being advanced due to political issues. They said the Prime Minister’s Office had not given a green light to go ahead with the meetings.
The city received approval in August 2011 to build more that 1,000 apartments in Har Homa. But that was only the very first step in what became an incredibly long process which saw endless delays. By June 2013, the city managed to squeeze out permission from the state to build 69 new homes in the neighborhood for which tenders were issued in April 2012.
Despite intense pressure on Israel by the United States to freeze all Jewish construction of any type in any area won in the 1967 Six Day War, the city of Jerusalem has not changed its construction policy in 40 years.
“We continue to build in all city neighborhoods according to zoning plans for Jews and Arabs,” a city official told The Jerusalem Post in 2013. “In the coming years, we intend to build tens of thousands of homes throughout the city for the different population sectors.” New construction is essential for the city’s development, the official pointed out, noting that students and young adults also need to be able to purchase apartments and rent homes.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel has noted in the past that the process of publishing tenders for housing construction in Israel – throughout the country – is one that affects plans for some 600,000 residential units every year, and takes seven years. Even if the tenders are issued, however, not all the tenders are used.
The Arab neighborhood of Sur Baher faces the Har Homa neighborhood, which was built in the late 1990s despite intense international and local Arab criticism. The neighborhood itself stands on 32 acres of land (130 dunam) that was purchased by a Jewish group in the 1940s, located on the outskirts of southeastern Jerusalem, facing Bethlehem. The area was known as Jabal Abu Ghneim.
During the 1948 War of Independence, the hill was conquered by the elite troops of the Jordanian Arab Legion. Its Hebrew name, Har Homa, refers to a wall built on the remains of a Byzantine church that sat on the mountain, which was visible to the Palmach forces who were stationed at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel.
In 1991, expropriation of the land from various Jewish and Arab private owners was approved by Israeli cabinet minister Yitzchak Moda’i, for the purpose of completing a master plan for the capital under eminent domain.