White HouseÂ Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement on Tuesday expressing official disapproval of plans to build 900 additional units in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood. Here’s the White House statement:
We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem. At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.Â Our position is clear: the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.
On Wednesday, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the European UnionÂ “joined the chorus of international criticism of an Israeli plan to build hundreds of new housing units in East Jerusalem, saying the move hampered talks over the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
“The Presidency recalls that settlement activities, house demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem are illegal under international law,” the Swedish Presidency of the EU said in a statement.Â “Such activities also prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations and threaten the viability of a two-state solution.”
The Jerusalem Post noted that theÂ European Union had never recognized the annexation of east Jerusalem in 1967 nor Israel’s subsequent 1980 basic law, which declared that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.” The basic law was enacted by the government of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
On Wednesday, an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the U.S. complaint about Israel’s approval for new homes in Gilo. Haaretz reported that Netanyahu’s aide sent reporters a message calling the building plan “a routine process.” Further, the aide said that Netanyahu does not normally review municipal building plans and saw Gilo as “an integral part of Jerusalem.”
Moshe Ben Shushan, chairman of the Gilo community board, who said the Obama administration’s objections represented “a trend of interference in Israel’s policies. I have never thought of Gilo as a settlement.”
About 40,000 Israelis live in Gilo, which was built on West Bank land Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. The total population of Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is around 500,000.
In East Jerusalem, there were about 244,000 Palestinian permanent residents carrying blue (Israeli) IDs, as of 2007, according to Ir Amim, a group that monitors the effects of the security barrier in Jerusalem. Palestinians comprise more than 35 percent of the city’s population. Ir Amim states that “predictions taking into account natural birth rates assert that by the year 2020 the Palestinian population inÂ JerusalemÂ will consist of around 40 percent of the city’s population.” — Mordecai Specktor