An Israeli yeshiva geared toward English speakers from the United States and other countries won approval Wednesday to build a second Jerusalem campus, in the East Jerusalem flash point of Sheikh Jarrah.
The Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee approved the 12-story building, three floors of which will be underground, in a 4-3 vote.
The city put the plan for the Ohr Somayach building on the agenda despite objections from city council members and its own planning policy department. The planned construction is expected to raise serious diplomatic opposition from the United States and other countries, which object to Israeli construction beyond the Green Line, and to draw objections from local residents.
Yosef (Pepe) Alalu, a member of the Jerusalem city council from the left-wing party Meretz, called the plan a "provocation" and said the planning committee and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat are doing all they can to undermine the peace efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is working to reach a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Alalu said the new building violates the understanding that Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would remain in Israel in the event of a deal, while the Arab neighborhoods would become part of the Palestinian state when it is established.
The 9,615-square-meter building, which will include space for Torah study and a dormitory for the yeshiva students, will be located on an empty lot near the yeshiva's existing campus on Shimon Hatzadik Street. Most of the lot is owned by the Israel Lands Administration.
The Jerusalem planning department has objected to using the lot for what is to be known as the Glassman campus of Ohr Somayach.
“The construction of the yeshiva in this area, which is characterized by a population with different religious characteristics and is close to hotels and the light rail line, is not the optimal use [of the property],” the department said.
Sheikh Jarrah has become a symbol of the Palestinian popular struggle in Jerusalem in recent years, and a flash point where local residents and left-wing activists have protested the entry of Jewish settlers into the neighborhood and the evictions of Palestinian families from their homes.
About 10 families are now waging legal battles to overturn eviction orders against them, which were issued at the request of Jewish building and land owners, mostly the heirs of residents of the neighborhood who lived there before 1948 and were forced out of their homes. After a drawn-out legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled against one of the families, giving it a year to leave the house.
The hearing date for construction of the new building was originally scheduled for last month, but the vote was delayed out of fear of diplomatic pressure from Washington ahead of Kerry's visit to the Middle East.
Ohr Somayach, a yeshiva that has operated in Jerusalem for decades and teaches Israeli and Diaspora Jewish students seeking to become more religious, has fourbranches in the United States and others in Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia.
The planning committee is also expected to discuss another controversial plan, for a large site for the disposal of construction waste between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, which would require the evacuation of a small Bedouin encampment named Jadua-Kabua. A few dozen people live in the village, most of whom are residents of Israel.