An Israeli planning committee backed down on Wednesday from approving hundreds of permits for housing projects in east Jerusalem, hoping to avoid fanning controversy over settlement activity hours before a policy speech on Israeli-Palesitnian peace by Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Jerusalem municipal planning commission had been scheduled to vote on about 600 building permits in neighborhood settlements located in parts of the city that make up the proposed capital of a future independent Palestinian state. But amid a weeklong spat between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning settlements, the permits were taken off the agenda.
Approval of the permits was postponed “at the request of the prime minister in order not to create an unnecessary conflict with the U.S. administration,’’ said Jerusalem council member Hanan Rubin, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television.
“We aren’t interested in creating a storm out of nothing,’’ Rubin wrote on his Facebook page. “Building in Jerusalem isn’t something political.”
On Sunday, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turjeman vowed to encourage moving forward in planning thousands of new homes at the meeting, vowing that he isn’t flustered “by the United Nations or by any other entity that tries to dictate to us what to do in Jerusalem.”
Despite the postponement, Ir Amim, a group promoting Israeli-Palestinian compromise in Jerusalem, warned that the building committee on Wednesday did approve the construction of a four story Israeli building in the middle of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. In a statement, Ir Amim called it the “largest settlement project in a Palestinian neighborhood’’ since 1967.
Meanwhile, Israeli government officials were frustrated and indignant on Wednesday following Kerry’s 75-minute speech.
Visibly angry, Prime Minister Netanyahu called the speech “a big disappointment,” and criticized Kerry for dealing “obsessively” with settlements.
“If the administration invested the same energy into fighting Palestinian terrorism that it invested in condemning building in Jerusalem, maybe there would have been a better chance to promote peace,” Netanyahu said. The prime minister challenged the Obama administration to immediately announce that it would block new Security Council resolutions on Israel and end this “charade.”
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was a defense minister under Netanyahu for several years, said in a tweet that the Kerry speech was “strong and sane,’’ and blamed the prime minister for taking Israel to the brink of international isolation in the interest of “a messianic movement” of Jews in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that he would rejoin peace talks with Israel “the minute” Israel ceases settlement activities in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank.
Mitnick is a special correspondent.
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