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After escaping flotilla uproar, Israel faces new flap over Jerusalem

A Jerusalem municipal council approved plans to install a tourist park in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which calls for demolishing 22 Palestinian homes. The US warned that the plan threatens Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

By Correspondent / June 22, 2010

Palestinian boys sit on a wall in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, in Jerusalem, Tuesday. A Jerusalem municipal council approved plans for a tourist park to be installed in this East Jerusalem neighborhood. The plan calls for 22 Palestinian houses to be demolished.

Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP


Tel Aviv, Israel

Diplomatic tensions have flared over Jerusalem for the first time in weeks following the preliminary approval for a controversial plan for a tourist park in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The plan calls for 22 Palestinian houses to be demolished.

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The decision Monday by a Jerusalem municipal planning committee immediately drew condemnation by the Palestinian Authority and a warning from the United States.

Three months after the announcement of an East Jerusalem building project upended Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the region, the move highlights the potential threat to peace talks and regional stability posed by Israeli development in contested areas of the Holy City.

"It's like lighting a match in a roomful of gas,'' says Meir Javedanfar, a Middle East analyst based in Tel Aviv.

Once again, a lower-level government agency has taken a small step toward a project that will take years to complete, leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the US, and the Palestinians to handle the fallout.

The decision comes just as Israel tries to tamp down the diplomatic uproar from the fatal intercept of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, and two weeks before Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the White House.

'I don't think Netanyahu approved this'

To build a park and commercial center southeast of the Old City, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wants to demolish 22 Silwan homes, which the municipality says are illegally built, and provide alternative housing for Palestinians. The prime minister's office has pushed for a compromise with the affected residents, who oppose the plan.