UN chief Ban Ki-Moon on Monday denounced Israel’s decision to expand the construction of homes for Jews at settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, his spokesman said.
The UN leader is “deeply disappointed” that Israel’s announcement came days after last week’s release of a key report by the Middle East diplomatic quartet — the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations — that urged Israel to stop building settlements, Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
“This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank,” he added.
Ban said that “settlements are illegal under international law” and called on the Israeli government to “halt and reverse such decisions in the interest of peace and a just final status agreement.”
On Sunday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved hundreds of new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem. Israel regards East Jerusalem, which it annexed after the 1967 war, as part of its unified, sovereign capital.
The move came in response to the killing of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian while sleeping in her bed on Thursday, and to the shooting of Rabbi Miki Mark and the injuring of his family as they were driving near Hebron a day later.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Monday joined several other ministers and Knesset members who have demanded the government authorize new buildings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in response to the recent uptick in terror attacks.
Kahlon, head of the center-right Kulanu party, opened a meeting of his party by speaking about the importance of continued construction.
“Indeed, now we must make clear to the other side — terror will not uproot [us]. We cannot be content with words alone. We have no other choice but to build now and build a lot. At the end of the week, I went to the prime minister and demanded that he stop the construction freeze in Jerusalem,” said Kahlon.
“The murder of a sleeping girl and the gunfire at passing cars have the same goal, to sow terror and fear and to force people to leave their homes. It is important to make it clear to the murderers that the future of building in the West Bank will be decided by negotiations and not by force,” said Kahlon.
Kahlon claimed that Netanyahu had imposed a de facto moratorium on Jewish building in East Jerusalem, saying it had harmed the country’s interests.
“We must tell the truth. Jerusalem has suffered over the past several years from a silent building freeze,” Kahlon said. “We freeze, but they [the Palestinians] incite; we freeze, but they murder. I support the prime minister’s decision to build in Ma’ale Adumim and I hope that this will be carried out.”
Netanyahu came under fire earlier Monday from a number of lawmakers for permitting building of Arab homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa, without parallel building in the adjacent Givat Hamatos neighborhood.
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, said the de facto freeze had adversely affected the city.
“This silent building freeze in Jerusalem is preventing the growth of Jerusalem and her citizens,” Azaria said. “Young people are forced to leave the city… We cannot have a situation where they announce building in the West Bank, but in Jerusalem there is a freeze.”
The Kulanu criticism appeared to be aimed at the government’s decision to only approve housing in response to terror attacks.
Earlier in the day, 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.
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, although construction announcements often draw international condemnation.