Nir Hasson
April 12, 2010 - 12:00am

Construction requiring the approval of Jerusalem's district planning committee has been on hold for more than a month in all parts of the city due to concerns about a new crisis in ties with the United States.

Staff members of the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee have been instructed to halt their work in an effort to spare Israel further embarrassing incidents like the March announcement, during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel, of plans to expand the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem.

Architects have said district committee chairwoman Ruth Yosef is not even signing off on plans that have already been approved, causing a backlog. The district committee has not met for over a month and upcoming hearings have been canceled.

The architects say when they ask about the reason for the freeze on committee activity they are told it is because of U.S. President Barack Obama. The stoppage is even affecting approval by Arab developers for Palestinian residents of the city. The freeze is also liable to affect plans to fence off the Gazelle Valley in the western part of the city to protect a herd of gazelles that have been attacked by packs of stray dogs.

Unlike the district committee, the local planning committee is functioning normally, and small-scale projects have not been affected by the stoppage.

The Jerusalem municipality said Sunday it is showing sensitivity in light of the circumstances, but said there was no intention to stop the work of the local committee.

The Interior Ministry said the documentation required to resume the work of the district committee has been prepared, at the request of a separate panel appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the Ramat Shlomo announcement. The ministry said planning institutions in the capital were awaiting that committee's instructions.

The Prime Minister's Bureau said there has been no change in the construction policy in the capital.

"The building and planning policy in Jerusalem has not changed and is identical to that conducted by all Israeli governments," the bureau said in a statement. "In the course of drawing lessons from the incident at the time of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel, procedure is currently being developed that will ensure that an incident such as this is not repeated with respect to the timing of the release of proceedings of diplomatic sensitivity."


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