Prime Minister Netanyahu weighed in on the recent tensions in Jerusalem at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, emphasizing that Israel retains the right to “build in Jerusalem,” after the Biden administration criticized the impeding evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and Israeli construction in the West Bank.
“We emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, these pressures have been increasing of late. I say even to our best friends: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Just as every people builds its capital and in its capital, so too do we reserve the right to build Jerusalem and in Jerusalem. This is what we have done and what we will continue to do,” he said, according to a statement from his office.
The cabinet meeting was held in Jerusalem’s City hall in honor of Jerusalem Day on Monday.
Three times since the beginning of April, US officials reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office to express their opposition to Israeli steps to build beyond the Green Line, Channel 12 reported Thursday.
Netanyahu has repeatedly dismissed these objections.
The US last week also expressed concerns over the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where over 70 Palestinian residents are threatened with eviction and could be replaced by right-wing Jewish nationalists in a legal battle being waged in the courts.
The case has been cited as one of the key issues sparking some of the worst clashes seen in years at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound on Friday and further violence Saturday amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Beyond the Biden administration, the impending eviction has drawn criticism from allies throughout Europe, as well as Israel’s newfound friends in the Persian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
On Sunday, the Supreme Court canceled a hearing scheduled for Monday that could have determined whether four Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah would be evicted.
According to a secret legal opinion, Israeli security officials were worried the hearing could further fuel tensions, the Walla news site reported.
Monday also marks Jerusalem Day, when tens of thousands of Jewish nationalists are expected to march through the Old City of Jerusalem to mark 54 years since its capture during the Six Day War. Security officials are considering placing limits on Jerusalem Day events or canceling them entirely, Hebrew media reported Sunday.
During the cabinet meeting, referring to the riots at the Temple Mount over the weekend, Netanyahu also said Israel “will continue to guard freedom of worship for all faiths, but we will not allow violent disturbances.”
On Friday, 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police officers were wounded as hundreds rioted in the Temple Mount and cops broke into the holy compound to quell the unrest.
On Saturday night, as some 90,000 Muslim worshipers prayed at the site, the clashes with police continued around Jerusalem’s Old City, leading to some 90 Palestinian injuries.
The Temple Mount has long been one of the main flashpoints of Israeli-Palestinian friction. The holiest place in Judaism — as the site of the two biblical temples — it is also home to the Muslim holy sites of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
Netanyahu emphasized that Israel “will uphold law and order – vigorously and responsibly, and warned the Hamas terror group that “Israel will respond powerfully to any act of aggression from the Gaza Strip.”
Those comments referred to a rocket fired from Gaza at southern Israel Saturday night, which landed in an open field. The Israel Defense Forces responded with a strike on a Hamas post in the southern Strip.
Also on Saturday night, hundreds of Palestinians rioted along the Gaza border fence with Israel, burning tires and throwing explosives at Israeli troops before being dispersed by tear gas.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz also addressed the ongoing tensions at the special cabinet meeting, echoing Netanyahu’s statement that Israel is committed to maintaining freedom of worship.
Gantz, who is also justice minister, said that ministry is working with defense officials to address incitement to violence on social media.
“Unfortunately, I can say some of the social media companies, particularly Facebook, are not sufficiently cooperating on everything related to taking down inciting text on the networks. I hope we get broader cooperation to calm the tensions,” Gantz said, according to a statement from his office.