Snubbing critics, PM vows to continue building Israel’s ‘undivided capital’

Ahead of visit by EU foreign policy chief, Netanyahu tours East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo mere days after Europeans slam Israel for expanding ‘illegal’ settlements

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

PM Netanyahu speaking in Gilo, October 23, 2012. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
PM Netanyahu speaking in Gilo, October 23, 2012. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday asserted Israel’s right to expand construction in Jerusalem, rebutting international condemnation of the government’s approval of 800 new housing units in Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood of the capital beyond the Green Line.

“United Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. We have full rights to build in it,” he said during a visit to Gilo in the south of Jerusalem. “We have built in Jerusalem, we are building in Jerusalem and we will continue to build in Jerusalem. This our policy and I will continue to support building in Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who accompanied the prime minister during his tour, thanked Netanyahu for his support for construction works in both parts of the city. “Jerusalem is one united city, which has not been partitioned into tribes and will never be divided. This has always been our obligation and it will remain so in the future,” Barkat said, vowing to build “tens of thousands of apartments” throughout the city.

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Last Thursday, the Interior Ministry approved a plan to construct 797 additional housing units in Gilo, drawing criticism from several European governments and the European Union.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who will visit Israel Wednesday and is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and other senior government officials, said last week she “deeply regrets” the plan to expand Gilo.

“Settlements are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible,” she declared Friday. “The EU has repeatedly urged the government of Israel to immediately end all settlement activities in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under the road map.”

France called the Interior Ministry’s decision “a provocation.” In a statement released Friday, Paris declared that “the Israeli settlement program, in all its forms, is illegal under international law, undermines trust-building between the parties, and constitutes an obstacle to a just peace based on the two-state solution.”

The British minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, “strongly” condemned the Gilo expansion plans, saying Israeli settlements undermine the possibility of a two-state solution. “It is deeply worrying that despite repeatedly raising our concerns, Israel continues to press ahead with plans to expand them.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu, center, visits the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, October 23, 2012 (photo credit: Moshe Millner/GPO)
Prime Minister Netanyahu, center, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, left, visit the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, October 23, 2012. (photo credit: Moshe Millner/GPO)

Apparently concerned with proving his right-wing credentials during the current election campaign, Netanyahu already stressed once this week that he was not going to restrict building in East Jerusalem. “Just as there is construction in every capital, in London, Paris, Washington and Moscow, Israel is building in Jerusalem,” he said Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting. “We have a link no less ancient and no less strong to our capital, and this is an understatement.”

Ahead of the Likud party primaries next month, Netanyahu fears a surge of the party’s far-right wing, which might cost him the votes of more moderate voters.

Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War and officially annexed it in 1980, a move that has not been recognized by the international community.

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