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Byline: Serge Schmemann The New York Times

The Israeli government on Wednesday approved the development of a large new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, drawing a chorus of Arab and international denunciation and defying warnings that the move could provoke a new wave of Palestinian rage.

Seeking to defuse Palestinian anger, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on Arabic radio and television to portray the widely anticipated development decision as a benign attempt to alleviate a housing shortage in Jerusalem, and even as a bid for ``peaceful coexistence and harmony between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs.''

But most Israelis, Palestinians and foreign governments saw the decision to develop the first 2,500 of a planned 6,500 housing units on a wooded lot in southern Jerusalem as a fateful step in the bitter competition for Jerusalem.

``The struggle for Jerusalem has begun,'' the Israeli police minister, Avigdor Kahalani, said as he went into a session of a special ministerial committee on Jerusalem affairs. ``When we take our decision today, we will make it clear once and for all that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people.''

After the meeting, Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh made the announcement that the government would go ahead with the development of the units in an area known to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim and to Israelis as Har Homa.

Naveh said the government also approved work that would pave the way for construction of some 3,000 housing units for Palestinians in various neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Israeli nationalists, who had threatened to bring down Netanyahu's government if he did not approve the Har Homa project, also made no secret that they viewed the development as part of a chain of Jewish neighborhoods around eastern Jerusalem that would preclude any future division of the city.

While Israelis maintain a united Jerusalem will always be theirs, the Palestinian Authority wants to see the old eastern section of the city, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, become the capital of the independent state it hopes to create.

The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, called an emergency meeting of his negotiating team in Gaza after the Israeli announcement. He made no immediate statement, but other Palestinian leaders, who have been warning of potential violence if Israel went ahead with the project, condemned the decision.

``This decision is a serious violation of the peace process and a major blow to the agreements,'' said Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, general secretary of the Palestinian Authority.

The White House declared that the action ``further complicates an already complicated situation.'' The European Union issued a statement saying it ``deeply deplores'' the decision, adding that it had repeatedly stated that ``settlements in the occupied territories contravene international law and are a major obstacle to peace.''

King Hussein of Jordan, who was Netanyahu's host in Amman earlier this week, warned that the decision would ``fuel feelings of anger that will create violence and threaten the peace-building process.''

But in private messages to Arab and American officials, Netanyahu and his aides were said to have argued that the prime minister had no choice but to go ahead with the Har Homa development if he was to survive in office.

Earlier this month, several members of his coalition, evidently concerned that Netanyahu was backing away from the right-wing platform on which he was elected, warned that they would bring down his government unless he promptly approved the construction in East Jerusalem.

The challengers included members of Netanyahu's own Likud party, as well as Industry Minister Natan Sharansky and the leaders of smaller parties. Despite the various warnings that approval of the Har Homa project could provoke a new wave of violence on the scale of what followed the opening of the archeology tunnel in the Old City in September, there was no certainty what the reaction would be.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 27, 1997

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