A decision to approve hundreds of housing units in an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem was criticized by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who warned that the move would create a contiguous block of Palestinian areas which would divide the capital.
The move, which came along with a government decision to okay hundreds of homes in Jewish areas of East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, was also slammed by the capital’s mayor, who questioned the tactic of only approving Jewish housing units as a response to terror attacks.
Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said the approval of 600 units in Beit Safafa, on Jerusalem’s southeastern edge, would link the neighborhood to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, creating a Palestinian corridor reaching into the heart of the capital.
“Arab construction in Givat Hamatos will create contiguous Palestinian territory until the Malha Mall. It will divide Jerusalem de facto, a Palestinian arrow in the heart of Jerusalem,” he said, referring to the area by the name of a planned Jewish neighborhood adjacent to Beit Safafa.
“I call on the prime minister to not allow Palestinian construction alone.”
Hours earlier, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin lodged a similar complaint, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to also approve building in Givat Hamatos, which today is a scrubby hill populated by a few mobile homes reached by pockmarked roads.
“Those who want to maintain a Jewish majority in the capital cannot promote construction for the Arab population only,” said Elkin.
In 2014, a Jerusalem planning committee okayed over 2,600 new units for Givat Hamatos, drawing harsh international condemnation and claims that Jewish building there would cut Beit Safafa from Bethlehem. The construction never took place, though the plan ostensibly remains on the table.
The approval of the units in Beit Safafa Sunday came along with an announcement of th advancing of permits for 560 new units in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, east of the capital, 140 homes in the Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot and 100 for the Har Homa neighborhood, in southeastern Jerusalem.
The move was billed as a response to terror attacks that have wracked the Hebron area recently, including a stabbing attack in Kiryat Arba that left Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, dead, and a shooting attack on a nearby road that killed Rabbi Miki Mark, the head of the Otniel Yeshiva.
Elkin welcomed the construction but said building plans must also be approved for the planned Jewish neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, adjacent to Beit Safafa.
Also on Monday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat criticized what he said was the trend of only okaying East Jerusalem building in response to attacks.
“In Jerusalem, there is and will continue to be a Jewish majority,” he said. “It is a mistake to approve construction in Jerusalem only after a terror attack. We need to build in Jerusalem always.”
He vowed that the municipality will continue to advance construction in the capital according to the city’s master plan for development.
“I say to our friends in the US and Europe that there is no way that we will approve construction by religion and nationality,” he continued. “Can anyone even consider that we would approve construction for Arabs but freeze construction for Jews?”
Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and effectively annexed it shortly after, in a move not recognized internationally. The government says it reserves the right to build anywhere in the capital, though construction announcements often draw international condemnation.
A Quartet report Thursday demanded that Israel take urgent steps to halt the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, citing it as one of three “negative trends” that must be quickly reversed to keep the hope of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal alive.
The announcement came a day after Netanyahu and Liberman approved the construction of 42 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, where 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in her bedroom on Thursday morning in the settlement.
Bennett, speaking before Barkat at a meeting Monday of the West Bank settlement Yesha council, criticized Israel’s overall diplomatic strategy since Netanyahu showed his willingness to back the two-state peace solution, which the prime minister did in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009. Bennett said Israel’s policy of buying time and international legitimacy by agreeing to a Palestinian state had failed.
“That strategy that Israel has employed for over a decade got us boycotts, condemnations, the world pressuring us to establish Palestine,” Bennett said.
“It is time to switch to a different strategy. A strategy of standing up — standing up for what is ours. It isn’t shiny, there are fewer balloons, but it will work well. It says — this is our land.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.