Israel delays vote on east Jerusalem homes ahead of John Kerry speech

Almost 500 new apartments were due to be approved by housing committee

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel was defiant over a UN vote demanding it halt settlements in Palestinian territory, after lashing out at US President Barack Obama over the “shameful” resolution. Photograph: Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel was defiant over a UN vote demanding it halt settlements in Palestinian territory, after lashing out at US President Barack Obama over the “shameful” resolution. Photograph: Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Jerusalem municipality has postponed approval for almost 500 new apartments in Jewish neighbourhoods over the 1967 green line that would have been in open defiance of last Friday’s United Nations Security Council resolution calling for Israel to halt all construction in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem planning and housing committee had indicated it would press ahead with a planned vote on Wednesday authorising 492 new homes in the Jewish neighbourhoods of Ramat Shlomo and Ramot, built on land captured by Israel from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The vote was scheduled to take place just a few hours before US secretary of state John Kerry delivered a policy speech which was highly critical of Israeli settlement building, but just hours before the speech the committee meeting the prime minister’s office ordered the vote postponed.

Committee member Hanan Rubin said the decision was an attempt to avoid further damaging relations with Washington.

“It’s in our interest to avoid political voting in Jerusalem because Jerusalem is not the same as settlements around Israel,” he said. “We are creating affordable housing and housing for young families . . . and if there is a big storm and Kerry’s speech today, we are looking to avoid this conflict.”

The government often steps in to prevent approval for new settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem at particularly sensitive times. However, the decisions are invariably nothing more than a temporary postponement for a few weeks or months. The Jerusalem planning committee meets regularly, and it is likely to consider approving the permits at a future date.

Other units

Jerusalem deputy mayor Meir Turjeman, who also heads the planning committee, also has plans to advance some 5,600 other units at earlier stages in the planning process.

“We’ll discuss everything that’s on the table in a serious manner,” he said. “I’m not concerned by the UN or anything else trying to dictate our actions in Jerusalem. I hope the government and new US administration will give us the momentum to continue and make up for the shortage created over the eight years of the Obama administration.”

Israeli officials were particularly angry that the UN resolution failed to distinguish between the West Bank and east Jerusalem, classifying the Jewish holy sites the Temple Mount and the Western Wall as occupied Palestinian territory.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat vowed to continue construction in all areas of Israel’s capital, including the areas annexed after 1967, despite international pressure.

“The UN has proven time and time again – through last month’s Unesco resolution and this most recent Security Council vote – that it is biased against the Jewish state,” he said.