- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2008

JERUSALEM — As Israelis and Palestinians resume negotiations on Jerusalem for the first time in seven years, a new Jews-only neighborhood in the Arab half of the city is slated to begin filling up.

Developers of Nof Zion, luxury condominiums whose Hebrew name means Zion View after its panorama of historic Jerusalem, plan to distribute keys soon in the completed 91-unit first phase of a real estate project in the heart of the Arab neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.

Dividing sovereignty in Jerusalem according to Jewish and Arab neighborhoods is considered one of the most delicate core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Critics of the project complain that building more Jewish enclaves in the middle of the neighborhoods that Palestinians claim as the capital of their state will undermine peace efforts.

All small settlements of Jews in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods make it impossible to divide, said Efrat Cohen-Bar, an architect with Bimkom, a nonprofit advocate of planning rights for Palestinians.

Promotional material for the project, targeting Jewish Americans, promises a gated community, a synagogue, a hotel, public gardens, a country club and a harmonious residential neighborhood.

Israel’s green light for new building in the contested East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa has become a lightning rod for Palestinian complaints that the Israelis are prejudging final status negotiations on Jerusalem.

Although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has committed to a settlement freeze in the West Bank, no such commitment has been made regarding the Israeli building in the sections of Jerusalem annexed after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Over the weekend, Mr. Olmert called Israel’s failure to dismantle the illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank a disgrace.

Analysts explained the comment as an effort to shore up support from Israel’s center-left ahead of a report on his handing of the Lebanon war in 2006.

Nof Zion, which is envisioned with at least 400 housing units, has escaped public outcry, say observers, because it’s a project of a publicly listed real estate developer, who is more concerned with the bottom line than the ideology of the religiously fervent settlers.

What we’re selling doesn’t exist anywhere else in Jerusalem. It’s the amazing view the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, the Western Wall, the City of David and the Judean Desert, said Dror Kaveh, chief executive of developer Digal Investments.

Together with the technical specifications, it’s without competition. We have no impact on politics, he said.

Not everyone shares Mr. Kaveh’s opinion. The goal of Jewish building in the sections of Jerusalem conquered during the Six-Day War has been to strengthen Israel’s hold over the city by breaking up the Palestinian contiguity with the West Bank and in the city itself, said Danny Seidman, a lawyer who specializes in municipal planning and the founder of Ir Amim, a nonprofit that promotes a negotiated division of Jerusalem.

Har Homa, backed by the government and the main source of Israeli-Palestinian tension, blocks off Bethlehem to the south.

In recent weeks, the newspaper Ha’aretz reported government plans for a neighborhood to secure Jerusalem from Palestinian neighborhoods spreading southward from Ramallah.

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