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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Olmert's nose grows again: Denies he agreed to Jerusalem construction freeze

Sometimes a person tells so many lies that he is no longer able to distinguish between lies and the truth. When that happens, he lives in an alternative reality in which he no longer knows what he said, what he agreed to do and what he refused to do. Such is the life of Israel Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert. Olmert is a pathological liar, and has told so many lies to so many people that he can no longer distinguish fact from fiction. This trait figures prominently in Olmert's commitments regarding Jerusalem.

Olmert has apparently committed to President Bush and Secretary of State Rice that there will be no more building in the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem that are located in areas that were liberated after Israel was attacked by Jordan in the Six Day War. This includes areas in which tens of thousands of Jews currently reside, like Ramot, Ramat Eshkol, Sanhedria Murhevet, French Hill, Ramat Shlomo, Pisgat Zev, Neve Yaakov, Gilo, East Talpiyot and Har Homa to name a few. On the other hand, agreeing to a building freeze in those areas will infuriate Jerusalem's mayor and a heck of a lot of other Israelis.

I first asked whether Olmert had agreed to a building freeze (I called it a suspension at the time) in Jerusalem on December 8, when the Bush administration first raised objections to the construction of some three hundred new apartments at Har Homa, on the southern edge of the city:
On Tuesday, the government announced plans to build 307 housing units in Har Homa. Har Homa is located within the Jerusalem city limits; in fact it is closer to the city center than Gilo or some parts of Talpiyot (both suburbs of Jerusalem that are within the city limits). The announcement caused criticism from 'Palestinian negotiator' Saeb Erekat (among others) who claimed that Israel was violating the 'understandings' reached at Annapolis....
"If the [Har Homa] plan is implemented," said Erekat, "it will ruin all the efforts to reach meaningful negotiations to end the Israeli occupation," Army Radio reported.
NO Israeli government has EVER agreed to suspend building in Jerusalem (although there have been rumors that suspensions would be agreed to in the past, none of them ever came to pass). So if Olmert did agree to it, this would be a first.

Yesterday, the government came under attack by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice:
Israeli plans to build more than 300 new homes in the disputed east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa won't help efforts to build confidence with the Palestinians under the revived Middle East peace process, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.

"We're in a time when the goal is to build maximum confidence between the parties and this doesn't help to build confidence," Rice told reporters after a meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on the sidelines of a NATO meeting.

This evening, the government - through Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim - is trying to convince everyone that we can build whatever we want in Jerusalem and that the government has not agreed to suspend building in its own capitol.


But is that really true? Look at what Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said yesterday:
On Tuesday, Israel announced plans to build more than 300 new homes in Har Homa.

Government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel has explained to the US that the building tenders were the legacy of past governments.

"In this current decision to build, neither the Prime Minister's Office nor the Defense Ministry was involved in the decision-making process," Regev said. "We're talking about Jerusalem, Israel's capital, and Israeli law applies, and this was done through the regular, routine procedures."
All of which leads to the real question: Can the government decide tomorrow morning to build houses in Neve Yaakov or Pisgat Zev or - for those of you who know the city let's bring it a bit closer to the center - Ramat Eshkol? Is Ze'ev Boim lying fudging the truth?

It sounds to me like the government has agreed they won't build any more housing in the Jerusalem neighborhoods that have been built since 1967.
Two weeks later, when the government had already retreated on building a new neighborhood in Atarot - which is within the Jerusalem city limits - it began to talk about 'convenient timing' for building in Jerusalem, and I asked again whether Olmert had agreed to freeze construction in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem that are over the former green line:
Two weeks ago, when the whole uproar over building 300 apartments at Har Homa started, I asked whether at Annapolis Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert had agreed to a building freeze in Jerusalem neighborhoods that are beyond the pre-1967 border. If you believe him, Pensioners' Party Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Rafi Eitan says today that the answer is no.
Israel is planning to allocate funds to build over one thousand apartments in east Jerusalem and the West Bank as part of its 2008 budget, despite previous statements that it would not expand West Bank construction, Army Radio reported Sunday.


"No promise was ever given to anyone that we wouldn't continue to build in Har Homa, because it's within the municipal borders of Jerusalem," Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Rafi Eitan told Army Radio, calling both the neighborhood and Ma'aleh Adumim an integral part of Jerusalem.

The radio station quoted sources in the Ministry of Housing as saying Israel would wait for "a convenient timing, which will not raise a wave of international protest."
Allocating funds doesn't mean they will be used or that anything will be built. "No promise was ever given to anyone" sounds pretty definitive, except that it doesn't talk about NOW. And when it comes to Jerusalem, there is no such thing as "a convenient timing, which will not raise a wave of international protest."
Today, the issue arose again. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who owes no political loyalty to Olmert, said that he would continue building in Jerusalem whether Olmert agreed or not. Lupolianski was speaking in response to a radio report on a closed-door Knesset meeting, which stated that
the government had stipulated that all building in east Jerusalem neighborhoods - including longstanding city neighborhoods built on land acquired during the Six Day War, such as Ramot, Gilo and Pisgat Ze'ev - must now be approved by the prime minister or the defense minister.
Until now, only building in the 'West Bank' needed such approval. In response, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said that
the reported freeze on construction in east Jerusalem neighborhoods was "illegal," and vowed to keep building throughout the capital, the city said in a statement.

"Israel cannot be the first nation in the world which turns its capital into an illegal outpost," Lupolianski said in a written statement.

"This is an illegal decision which contradicts government law," he added.


The mayor said the city would continue building in all sections of the capital "without discrimination."
This is one of those rare occasions where even Jerusalem's opposition leader - venture capitalist Nir Barkat - agrees with Lupolianski:
Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat said that a decision to freeze building in east Jerusalem would make Olmert the first Israeli prime minister since the end of the British mandate in 1948 to enact "a White Paper," for the capital, a reference to the infamous 1939 British document which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine.
Olmert responded by having his office deny the report:
"We have made it very clear to all international bodies, including US President George W. Bush during his visit. We have no intention of freezing the construction in Jerusalem. All such claims are baseless and unfounded," the representatives said.

180,000 Israelis live in such neighborhoods, which are expected to remain part of Israel under any peace treaty.
'Intentions' are one thing, actions are another. There's a housing shortage in Jerusalem. Despite a net decrease in the city's Jewish population in the last fifteen years, housing is expensive and unavailable. New construction is desperately needed. If Olmert hasn't agreed to freeze construction in Jerusalem, why did he cancel the Atarot project last month within days after it came up? Why did he apparently back off building five hundred units in Har Homa (in addition to the first three hundred) and two hundred and forty more in Maaleh Adumim (which supposedly is going to be incorporated into Jerusalem)? Why are the original three hundred units in Har Homa not being built? Could Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert be lying again? I'd say it's a lot more likely that he's lying than that he's telling the truth.


At 1:45 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:46 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

I do think Ehud Olmert is lying. A senior bureaucrat in the Housing Ministry, if Haaretz is to be believed, said no new construction tenders have been approved for building in Jerusalem east of the 1967 line. So Olmert's denial he has agreed to a Jerusalem construction freeze sounds like a classic non-denial denial. If he's telling the truth, why haven't new construction tenders been approved by his office? There's that old saying: action speaks louder than words.


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