In a clear response to the pressure from the Obama administration for Israel to halt construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, a group of some 50 American Jews are currently here to weigh purchasing homes in those areas, and are advising other US Jews to buy there as well.
The delegation, led by New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, is in the middle of a four-day tour throughout the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, and will conclude with a cornerstone-laying ceremony in the east Jerusalem community of Nof Zion on Wednesday.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, MK Danny Danon (Likud) stressed the importance of Wednesday's ceremony as "the answer to the Obama administration's demands to halt construction in such areas." Jews would continue to build in all parts of the capital, regardless of international pressure, he said.
"This sends a message that says, don't interfere with the rights of the Jewish people to build in Jerusalem," Danon said. "In fact, the answer to pressure from the Obama administration is to continue building in Jerusalem."
Speaking about the delegation, he added, "These are American Jews who support Israel and want to buy a second home in Israel. They've being speaking with real estate developers, looking at different properties and weighing their options."
The delegation's visit comes amid an intense round of high-level meetings between American and Israeli officials to jump-start negotiations with the Palestinians, and heavy US pressure to halt all Jewish construction over the Green Line, pressure that was partially rebuffed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the summer.
While Washington is still pushing for a halt to such construction, work on thousands of previously approved homes is moving ahead in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
However, no new approvals have been given for construction projects in those areas since Netanyahu took office in March, something that was confirmed by Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) during a television interview last week.
Pressure from the Obama administration was the driving force behind this week's delegation, Hikind told the Post.
"This tour is a reaction to the Obama administration's attempts to tell Jews where they can and cannot live in Israel," he said. "And while you can support and care about the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria or east Jerusalem, when you buy something, you're making the ultimate statement."
Hikind went on to explain that members of the delegation, which he said was the first of many, had expressed great interest in purchasing homes during Monday's tour, and some were considering buying the homes for others to rent.
"I'm pleasantly surprised with the amount of interest people have expressed," Hikind said. "They've been given brochures with properties and prices to consider, and while buying a home is not an overnight decision, I'm seeing a lot of people react very positively to the tour."
Hikind added that Wednesday's ceremony in Nof Zion was of particular interest to him, as he had been dreaming of buying a home in Israel for 25 or 30 years.
"And I like Nof Zion a lot," he said.
But overall, Hikind said the tour was more about strengthening and supporting Israel than anything else.
"I have a lot of friends who own timeshares on some island," he said. "And you know, Barbados is nice, so is Aruba, but why not make that same commitment to Israel?"