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Ehud Barak attacks timing of plans to demolish 22 Palestinian homes

Posted by on Jun. 27, 2010 at 11:02 AM
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Ehud Barak attacks timing of plans to demolish 22 Palestinian homes

Israel's defence minister highlights Jerusalem's 'King's Garden' project at US visit

Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, has attacked the timing of plans to raze Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as prejudicial to hopes for continuing peace talks, echoing a row over housing that caused an unprecedented crisis between Israel and the US earlier this year.

Barak, visiting Washington, highlighted the ever-sensitive issue of Jerusalem by suggesting that the go-ahead for the controversial "King's Garden" archaeological park should have been delayed. The US warned yesterday that the decision to develop the project in the Silwan area – taken by the city council rather than the government – threatened the recently resumed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with America as the mediator.

"The King's Garden project, which has waited for 3,000 years, can wait another three to nine months if government policy considerations necessitate it," Barak was quoted as telling associates.

The Obama administration had been concerned about the approval and had had "numerous conversations" with Israel about it, said US State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley. "This is expressly the kind of step that we think undermines trust that is fundamental to making progress in the proximity talks."

Plans to build new housing units for Jews in another part of East Jerusalem ignited the row between the US and Israel in March. Binyamin Netanyahu's government was criticised at home and abroad when the announcement by a planning body was made during a visit by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, which made it look like a deliberate act of defiance.

But now, as then, domestic controversy is more about the timing of the announcement than the substance. Most Israelis are not prepared to see a building freeze in East Jerusalem. The Arab side of the city was annexed after the 1967 war but Palestinians insist it is their future capital and must be part of any peace deal.

Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said: "Israel continues its settlements policy in East Jerusalem and threatens to harm US efforts to promote proximity talks." The Silwan issue was also on the agenda for talks between the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Barak said the municipal authorities had "shown a lack of common sense and sense of timing – not for the first time".

In March Netanyahu asked Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat, to freeze the project to avoid further trouble.

The plan involves razing 22 Palestinian homes and constructing a tourism centre. A further 66 homes built without proper permits would receive approval retroactively. Residents of the homes due for demolition would be helped to move to other areas of Silwan. Palestinians oppose the plan, claiming its purpose is to strengthen the hold of Jewish settlers.

Netanyahu had been enjoying a brief respite from tensions with the US after Washington praised Israel's decision to ease the blockade of the Gaza Strip following the international row over its bloody interception of the "freedom flotilla". The Likud leader is due to hold talks with Obama early next month.

Avigdor Lieberman, the far-right foreign minister, predicted meanwhile that the "moment of truth" in Israeli's relations with the US would come in September, with the expiry of a moratorium on West Bank settlement building that was reluctantly agreed by Netanyahu. Lieberman told Israeli political correspondents that Abbas was "not a partner for peace".

by on Jun. 27, 2010 at 11:02 AM
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