JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister yesterday criticized a plan to raze 22 Palestinian homes to make room for an Israeli tourist center in disputed East Jerusalem after the United States expressed concern that the project could incite violence.
A Jerusalem municipal body approved the plan on Monday for shops, restaurants, art galleries, and a large community center on the site next to the walled Old City. In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressured Jerusalem’s mayor to delay it, apparently to fend off US criticism.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is in the United States for talks with the Obama administration, said Jerusalem officials “are not displaying common sense or good timing, and not for the first time.’’
Jerusalem is the most divisive issue between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, and nearly 200,000 Jews have moved there since, living alongside 250,000 Palestinians. Palestinians hope to build the capital of a future state in East Jerusalem and see Israeli construction as undercutting their claim.
The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.
P.J. Crowley, US State Department spokesman, voiced concern Monday about the East Jerusalem plan. “This would appear to be the kind of action that undermines trust and potentially incites emotions and adds to the risk of violence,’’ he said.
The office of Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, rejected Barak’s criticism, saying that the plan would rehabilitate a neglected section of the city and that he wants to build thousands of apartments for Arab residents.