Israel-loving VP protests Jewish building in... Ramat Shlomo?Ramat Shlomo is a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that already has more than 20,000 residents. Originally slated to be the site of the Jerusalem soccer stadium in the late 1970's, it was converted to housing and more than 2,000 units were built there in the early 1990's. Jews have been living there since early 1996.
Expelling all the Jews from Ramat Shlomo would mean expelling three times the number of Jews as were expelled from Gaza. The average family size is eight children.
Ramat Shlomo was in no-man's land before 1967. It sits on the strategic Shuafat ridge, which overlooks much of Jerusalem and parts of Ramallah. Some of you may recall that three years ago I posted pictures of a Second Temple-period quarry that was discovered there (one picture is above).
Ramat Shlomo was never supposed to be an issue with the 'Palestinians.' Abu Mazen had agreed with Ehud Olmert in 2008 that it would remain part of Israel in any future settlement. But on Tuesday night it became an issue (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," Biden said.Read it all.
The American vice president added that the "substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I?ve had here in Israel."
"We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them," Biden said adding that the "announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict," Biden said.
"The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians and for Jews, Muslims and Christians."
Biden also said that the U.S. believed "that through good faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world."
"Unilateral action taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations on permanent status issues. As George Mitchell said in announcing the proximity talks, 'we encourage the parties and all concerned to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks,'" Biden said.
The statement approving the 1,600 new houses, released by the Interior Ministry's Jerusalem district planning committee, headed by Ruth Yosef, said that at least 30 percent of the units will be allocated to young couples.
Public facilities and spaces which were, the statement said, lacking in the existing parts of the neighborhood, are also to be added as part of the new plan, including a new central park.
Israel Radio reported Wednesday morning that Biden held up a dinner with Netanyahu for an hour and a half on Tuesday night to make that announcement.
More details later - I have to go to synagogue.
UPDATE 8:14 AM
I cleaned this post up a bit - added links and a picture. I was in a rush to get it out because I had to go to synagogue. Sunrise is early right now.
If any visiting Congresspersons or bloggers want a tour of Ramat Shlomo, I know the area quite well. Send me an email.
UPDATE 8:31 AM
Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) told Israel Radio that the approval of the apartments in Ramat Shlomo was a 'technical matter' and he apologizes for the timing, which offended Biden.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) is reported by Israel Radio to be furious about the announcement and says that we cannot negotiate while continuing to build.
And you thought Labor was on board for the 'freeze' not applying to Jerusalem?