Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday reiterated Israel’s right to build in the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, notwithstanding global outcries. Speaking to ambassadors of Asian and Pacific countries on the balcony of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, overlooking the walls of the Old City, Netanyahu asked them to look down at the city and contemplate international demands that Israel stop building there.
“The walls of Jerusalem that you see behind us represent the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years,” said Netanyahu. “All Israeli governments have built in Jerusalem. We’re not going to change that. That’s a natural thing.”
“I want you to ask any of you to imagine that you would limit construction in your own capital. It doesn’t make sense… we are committed to our capital; we’re committed to peace; and we’re going to build in Jerusalem for all its residents. This is something that has been done by all previous governments; this is something that my government will continue to do,” Netanyahu told the envoys of China, India, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Australia, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.
Netanyahu’s statement came hours after the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of 2,612 housing units in Givat Hamatos, an area in East Jerusalem between the neighborhoods of Gilo and Talpiot, beyond the Green Line.
The area, inhabited by a few dozen Jewish and Palestinian families who live in rundown trailers, would be the first new neighborhood be built in East Jerusalem since 1997. City Councilor Pepe Alalu, who voted against the project, said construction could begin in a year.
Critics consider Givat Hamatos a particularly problematic area to develop because, along with another contentious plan in an area known as E-1, it would hinder access to East Jerusalem from the West Bank. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state
The Givat Hamatos approval came a day after the same committee authorized construction of 600 units in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa and two days after it approved the construction of 1,500 apartment units in the largely ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, effectively unfreezing Jewish construction in the eastern part of the capital, a move that garnered condemnation by the US.
The planning committee’s decisions to move forward with East Jerusalem construction fly in the face of US pressure on Israel not to develop Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line. The plan for expanding the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood touched off a diplomatic crisis with the US in 2010 when the ministry gave it preliminary approval during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.
The State Department accused Israel on Tuesday of engaging in a “pattern of provocative action” that runs contrary to statements from Israeli leaders that they are committed to peace. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said settlement activity puts the goal of peace “further at risk.” She urged both Israel and the Palestinians to halt all provocations and take steps to revive long-stalled peace talks.
“The Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is killing the two-state solution, and we are taking the battle against this enterprise to the international community,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Wednesday.