Israel will build in Jerusalem no matter the criticism, vows senior minister

If Israel’s international critics learned more about Jewish history in the city, at least their condemnations would not ‘come out of ignorance,’ Uzi Landau says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Israeli government doesn’t care about — and will ignore — recent international criticism of its plan to expand construction in east Jerusalem and other places beyond the Green Line, Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau said Monday.

Speaking to The Times of Israel after touring the City of David archeological site, located in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, Landau suggested those who censure Israel for building in its capital do so out of ignorance and might change their views if they learned more about the millennia-old Jewish presence in the city.

“What we have to care about, before anything else, is Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem,” he said, dismissing the onslaught of condemnations of Israel’s announcements to resume building in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramat Shlomo, Givat Hamatos, Har Homa and Givat Ze’ev, and elsewhere in the West Bank.

“Just to make it unequivocally clear to anyone: Israel will continue and do in Jerusalem what the British do in London and what the French do in Paris and what our friends in America do in Washington,” the Yisrael Beytenu politician said. “We do not advise anybody what to do in their own capital and we are going to follow only our own choice regarding Jerusalem.”

Last week, 14 out of 15 members of the United Nations Security Council condemned Israel for its construction plans, saying they “send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate.” Even the US gave Israel a tongue-lashing, with the State Department calling Jerusalem out for engaging in a “pattern of provocative action.”

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU will “closely monitor the situation and its broader implications,” and expressed a thinly veiled threat to “act accordingly” if Jerusalem doesn’t freeze its plans.

It is not clear what actions the EU would take. The threat of an unspecified response by Ashton was first issued after a meeting of the Union’s foreign ministers earlier this month. A joint statement by the continent’s foreign ministers condemned Israel but took no steps, such as a boycott or sanctions against the Jewish state. However, some observers fear that if Israel were to go ahead with its construction plans, especially in the area known as E1, which connects Jerusalem with Ma’aleh Adumim, the EU would consider punitive measures.

Minister Uzi Landau, right, visiting the City of David archeological park in Jerusalem,  December 24, 2012 (photo credit: courtesy David Katz/Yisrael Beytenu)
Minister Uzi Landau, left, visiting the City of David archeological park in Jerusalem, December 24, 2012. (photo credit: courtesy David Katz/Yisrael Beytenu)

Landau, who is No. 7 on the Likud-Beytenu list for the upcoming elections, said that “every threat must be taken seriously, and also answered seriously.” However, past Israeli leaders, from David Ben-Gurion over Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir to Menachem Begin, have always responded to threats by ignoring them and doing what they thought was the right thing to do, he said.

By giving in to pressures to freeze building in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line, the Israeli government would “simply invite” more pressure on it to make further concessions to the Palestinians, he said. “You’re simple sending a message that if somebody will press you on it, he’ll be successful. The message coming from here should be just in the opposite direction. We don’t care what people are going to do. We are going to live here in a natural manner,” he said. Construction in Jerusalem is not meant as a punishment for anyone, he added, but merely intended to serve the “natural” needs of Israeli citizens.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly indicated that some of his plans to expand construction in east Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank were publicized and pushed forward as a response to the Palestinians’ unilateral step to successfully seek nonmember observer state status at the UN.

Netanyahu has also vowed not to be deterred by international condemnations. “All Israeli governments have built in Jerusalem. We’re not going to change that,” he said last week.

On Monday morning, Landau took about a dozen members of Yisrael Beytenu’s English-speaking and youth divisions on a tour of the City of David archeological park, the site of an important excavation.

“If all those who are now criticizing Israel abroad would also take part on such visits, they would say the same things,” Landau told The Times of Israel, referring to the 3,000-year-old Jewish presence in Jerusalem, which he said was evidenced by the archeologists’ findings. “I do understand why Arabs do criticize [us] and are doing whatever possible to stop these excavations here, because every layer which is discovered simply shows how deep Jewish roots here are, and how nil are any Arab footprints.”

“I would invite here all of our European and North American colleagues who level their criticism these days, just to come and pay a short visit,” he added. “At least, if they then had criticism this wouldn’t come out of ignorance.”

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