A day before meeting EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and
Security Policy Catherine Ashton, who slammed Israel on Friday for plans to
build some 800 new housing units in Gilo, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
visited the Jerusalem neighborhood on Tuesday and declared he would continue to
build throughout the city.
“United Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal
capital,” Netanyahu said. “We have the full right to build in it. We built in
Jerusalem, we are building in Jerusalem, and we will continue to build
Netanyahu, who, in his successful 1996 prime ministerial race
against Shimon Peres, ran under the slogan “Peres will divide Jerusalem,” said
that “This is our country and I will continue to give support to building in
Government officials would not confirm that the visit to Gilo
was intended as a message for Ashton, scheduled to meet Wednesday with
Netanyahu, Peres, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
On Sunday, at
the weekly cabinet meeting, the prime minister reacted to Ashton’s censure of
the project in Gilo – which is beyond the pre-1967 lines – saying Israel would
not place any restrictions on building in its capital.
“This is our capital, and just as they build in every capital –
London, Paris, Washington or Moscow – Israel builds in Jerusalem,” he said. “We
have no less a historic and strong connection to our capital.”
Mayor Nir Barkat, who accompanied Netanyahu on his visit, said Jerusalem was a
united city that would not be divided again. He praised the prime minister for
being a “true friend of Jerusalem” and for providing the capital with support
“We will continue to build tens of thousands of apartments
throughout the city,” Barkat pledged.
Gilo Community Center director
Yaffa Shitrit said that the international outrage over building in Gilo was a
result of “a lack of understanding in the world over Gilo’s
“They need to look at the map. When they get here, they
understand that it’s not a settlement, it’s part of Jerusalem,” she
Shitrit said the city needed tens of thousands of new apartments
if it wanted to stop young people from leaving.
There are about 2,000
apartment units in different stages of the approval process in Gilo, including
the latest project, 807 units in the Western Slopes of Gilo project. This
project received approval from the municipality’s Local Planning and Building
Committee last week, setting off a firestorm of condemnation led by
The project is still years away from construction and must now
receive approval from the Interior Ministry.
Last September, Deputy
Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon hosted a similar press conference to explain to
the foreign media that Gilo was an integral part of Jerusalem, after similar
criticism erupted over the approval for more than 1,000 units in the Southern
Slopes of Gilo project.
Ironically Shitrit and the Gilo Community Center
oppose the building projects because they are concerned about the destruction of
the Gilo forest and an increase in traffic.
Shitrit said the center
supported additional building in the area, but only after the neighborhood of
29,600 residents had sufficient infrastructure and enough new roads.