Amid flurry of international condemnation, top minister lashes Livni, Lapid for opposing Jerusalem construction

Some Zionist parties serving up ‘Palestinian propaganda,’ Gideon Sa’ar charges; Hatnua head rejects assertions, says Likud silencing dissent

Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90/File)
Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90/File)

Plans to build in Israel’s capital should not be the object of criticism during this election season by any party that identifies with the Zionist movement, including those on the left, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) said on Wednesday, as Jerusalem came under mounting pressure following a series of new construction initiatives.

“All Israeli governments have built in Jerusalem since its unification [following the 1967 Six Day War], and the denunciations that are being voiced today have been voiced in the past,” Sa’ar told Israel Radio. The difference, he maintained, lay in the “unprecedented attacks” voiced by opposition parties in response to intentions to build housing units in neighborhoods of the capital that are located over the Green Line.

“The opposition parties of Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid serve up Palestinian propaganda and fan the flames,” Sa’ar charged. “All the Zionist parties should remove the issue of Jerusalem from their considerations in the period leading up to the elections.”

Sa’ar is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle of nine ministers and recently won the third spot in the joint slate being fielded by the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu ahead of the Knesset vote on January 22.

Speaking after Sa’ar, Livni, a former foreign minister and the head of the recently established Hatnua (The Movement) party, whose political platform focuses on the need for a two-state solution, told the station that “the ruling party is trying to silence those who oppose it, on the grounds that they are collaborating with the enemy.”

Livni noted that she had served in previous governments that built in Jerusalem and would defend Israel’s right to its capital regardless of the political situation.

However, she added, “what has changed, is that the world has stopped believing in the prime minister because he hasn’t succeeded in carrying on any diplomatic process with the Palestinians.”

The Hebrew daily Maariv on Tuesday quoted senior Likud sources to the effect that recent construction plans in the West Bank were not only a punitive action leveled at the Palestinians for pushing through with a bid to upgrade their status at the UN to “nonmember state”; they were also a key element of the Likud’s elections campaign.

“Before the elections there’s a need to make one’s stances more distinctive,” said a Likud minister, seemingly contradicting Sa’ar’s statement that there were no political motivations behind the construction plans. “It’s about time that people here [in the party] realized that Likud voters are in favor of construction in Jerusalem and the settlements.”

“This is our campaign,” the report quoted an associate of a senior Likud minister as saying, “and so far it’s proving to be highly effective. It’s no coincidence that immediately after an announcement of new construction, ministers are immediately dispatched to defend it in the media. The timing is deliberate.”

Israel has come under intense international criticism in recent weeks after the government announced plans to build thousands of housing units in the E1 corridor, near Ma’aleh Adumim, and in several East Jerusalem neighborhoods.

The State Department accused Israel on Tuesday of engaging in a “pattern of provocative action” that runs counter to statements from Israeli leaders that they are committed to peace. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said settlement activity only 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.

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