Israel's Contempt for Palestinians Exposed; Just Like After Oslo, Announcement of New Settlement Construction Sabotages Negotiations. The new announcement came at a sensitive time, just days before the official launch of new peace negotiations, and put the U.S., Israel's main ally, on the spot. In a carefully worded reprimand, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the construction would ''not help build confidence'' for talks.



December 18, 2007
Israeli Neighborhood Haunts Peace Talks
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 3:11 a.m. ET

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, with its
white stone buildings and billboards hawking new real estate projects,
now has managed to disrupt Israeli-Palestinian peace talks for the
second time in a decade.

Israel's announcement this month that it plans to build 307 new homes
in this east Jerusalem neighborhood, on land Palestinians want for the
capital of their future state, drew international condemnation.

The plan was the first wrench thrown into peace negotiations
relaunched last week after a violent seven-year hiatus.

For Har Homa residents like Eliran Nissim, the 30-year-old proprietor
of a pizza parlor, nothing could be more natural than building more
apartments for people like him.

''It's my country, it's the country of the Jews, and we will try to
build in it 100 percent,'' said Nissim, who has decided to stay
although he says he's come under fire twice from nearby Arab villages.

For Palestinians, the bulldozers and tractors that are hard at work
expanding Har Homa are a show of bad faith.

Building new homes for Israelis in the neighborhood violates two of
Israel's obligations: to negotiate the future of the city and not to
expand settlements, said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

''It is either settlements or peace,'' Erekat said. ''Jerusalem is
subject to negotiations. No one should try to pre-empt that.''

Services and shops are still scarce in Har Homa, giving the
neighborhood a somewhat desolate feel. On a recent afternoon, young
mothers pushed strollers and city buses picked up commuters along
streets still being paved.

A van decorated with colorful blinking lights blared music,
celebrating the arrival of a new Torah scroll at a local synagogue,
and residents gathered around it, clapping.

But Har Homa is a political statement as much as it is a residential
neighborhood, and has been a lightning rod for controversy even before
it was built.

A decade ago, Israel's announcement of the project set off Palestinian
riots, was criticized by the international community and brought on a
crisis in peace talks that already were faltering.

Construction began in earnest in 2000, the same year negotiations
collapsed in violence. The first residents began moving in with little
fanfare two years later.

Built on a hilltop known to Palestinians as Jebel Abu Ghneim, Har Homa
is part of a network of Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that ring
Palestinian areas. Palestinians charge the Israeli goal is to cut Arab
neighborhoods off from each other and stand physically in the way of
making east Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem shortly after its capture in the 1967
Mideast war, but the international community has never recognized the
move.

Har Homa was built in order to close the empty area between south
Jerusalem and the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, an attempt to
disconnect Arab Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland, said Israeli
political scientist Menachem Klein of Bar Ilan University.

The neighborhood now has 2,100 homes and 8,500 residents, according to
figures from the Jerusalem municipality. Most are Jewish families
drawn less by ideology than by relatively low housing prices in an
increasingly expensive city.

The new neighborhood, the network of roads around it and Israel's West
Bank separation barrier that encloses it are causing hardship to
Palestinians and undermining their hopes for a state, said Bethlehem
governor Salah Tamari, who led protests against the project a decade
ago.

''The area for Bethlehem ... has shrunk and we don't know how far they
will go. If settlements continue at the same pace, there will be no
more land for the Palestinians to build a state on,'' Tamari said.

The new announcement came at a sensitive time, just days before the
official launch of new peace negotiations, and put the U.S., Israel's
main ally, on the spot. In a carefully worded reprimand, Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice said the construction would ''not help build
confidence'' for talks.

Israeli Cabinet minister Haim Ramon, a close ally of Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert, countered that since Israel is willing, in principle, to
hand over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, it should be able to build
in Jewish ones.

In any final peace deal, Har Homa and other Jewish neighborhoods in
east Jerusalem -- home to some 180,000 Israelis -- are considered
likely to remain in Israeli hands, possibly as part of a territorial
exchange between the sides.

Other Israeli officials said the announcement was a misunderstanding
-- a decision by low-level bureaucrats about which Olmert was only
informed afterward.

But Palestinians say the timing is certain to undermine what little
goodwill exists between the sides after years of violence and
suspicion.

The plan for Har Homa was approved six months ago, said Zeev Boim,
Israel's housing minister. And building there is like building
anywhere in Israel, he insisted.

''There is no reason not to build in Har Homa, just as there is no
reason not to build in Tel Aviv, in Haifa or in any other Israeli
city,'' Boim said.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Israel-Contentious-Neighborhood.html
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