Barak, U.S. criticize E. Jerusalem plan

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak criticized a plan to redevelop an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood that would raze 22 Palestinian houses.

Barak, in the United States for talks with Obama administration officials, said Tuesday that the timing of the plan was inappropriate. The plan would create an archeological park, as well as a new Palestinian neighborhood and a tourist center in Silwan.

"The King’s Garden project, which has waited for 3,000 years, can wait another three to nine months if the State’s policy considerations necessitate it," Barak said.

A Jerusalem city spokesman said later that the plan would "strengthen and address the serious disadvantages inherited over the years in the eastern part of the city" and accused Barak of being uninformed about the project.

White House spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Monday, following the announcement  that Jerusalem’s municipal planning board had given its preliminary approval to the plan, that the Obama administration was "concerned" about the approval and had had "numerous conversations" with Israel about it.

"We understand that this is an action undertaken by the municipality of Jerusalem, not the Government of Israel, and it’s an initial step," Crowley said. "We have made it clear that we disagree with some Israeli practices in Jerusalem affecting Palestinians in areas such as housing, including evictions and demolitions. The status of Jerusalem and all other permanent status issues must be resolved through negotiations.

"This is expressly the kind of step that we think undermines trust that is fundamental to making progress in the proximity talks and ultimately in direct negotiations."

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