It can be argued that on a tactical level, our government’s reaction to the Palestinian UN bid was a mistake.

The announcement of plans for 3,000 housing units in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria less than 24 hours after the UN General Assembly vote to give “Palestine” non-member observer status might be interpreted by the US, Canada, the Czech Republic and the other five countries that voted against the Palestinian bid and the 41 states that abstained (not to mention the countries that voted in favor) as an unnecessary provocation.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, speaking Saturday at the Saban Forum in Washington, called the announcement a “slap in the face” for US President Barack Obama.

The move also unfairly paints Israel – at least in the eyes of the international community – as the guilty party in the ongoing deadlock in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

More substantially, the idea that Jewish settlement construction can be used as a means of punishment against Palestinians is wrongheaded. We build in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem such as Pisgat Ze’ev and Gilo or in consensus settlement blocs like Gush Etzion and Ariel out of a real need to supply housing for a fast-growing population. Unlike the vast majority of Western countries, Israel enjoys brisk natural population growth.

Indeed, our high fertility rate combined with our high standard of living is one of many signs of Israel’s vitality and health.

Nevertheless, on a more principled level, the decision to move ahead with building in areas that a broad majority of Israelis expect to be a part of any future Jewish state – even after a two-state solution is implemented – is perfectly in line with our country’s interests.

Even the decision to authorize zoning and planning for E1 follows in the footsteps of a long chain of governments – both left wing and right wing.

In October 1994, while in the midst of hammering out the Oslo Accords, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin declared that a “united Jerusalem” would include Ma’aleh Adumim as the capital of Israel under Israel sovereignty. As part of the effort to make sure Ma’aleh Adumim remained an integral part of a “united Jerusalem,” Rabin provided then-mayor Benny Kashriel with annexation documents for the E1 area –a strip of land that connects the capital with Ma’aleh Adumim.

As prime minister in 1996, Shimon Peres reaffirmed the government’s position that Israel will demand applying Israeli sovereignty over Ma’aleh Adumim in the framework of a permanent peace agreement. Dovish politician and co-author of the Geneva Initiative, Yossi Beilin, supported annexing Ma’aleh Adumim. And the 2000 Clinton Parameters called for Israel to be compensated for the partitioning of Jerusalem by annexing Ma’aleh Adumim.

During the 2008 Annapolis negotiations, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni demanded that Ma’aleh Adumim remain a part of Israel. And Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s declaration Sunday ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting that “the State of Israel will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all the places on the state’s strategic map” is a continuation of the political traditional that views control over E1 as a cardinal Israeli interest.

Consecutive governments on the Left and on the Right have understood the strategic importance of maintaining control over Ma’aleh Adumim, as well as E1. Without control over E1, Palestinian building could cut off Ma’aleh Adumim – a city with a population of 40,000 – from the capital; it could also undermine Israel’s access to the Jerusalem-Jericho road, of critical strategic importance for transport of troops and equipment from Jerusalem eastward and northward via the Jordan Rift Valley.

And despite claims to the contrary, building in E1 would not necessarily undermine the contiguity of a future Palestinian state. An access road could easily allow Palestinian traffic from the south and north to pass east of Ma’aleh Adumim and continue northward or southward.

While the timing of our government’s announcement might result in negative diplomatic repercussions, building in Jerusalem and E1 protects integral Israeli interests recognized and protected by both left-wing and right-wing governments for well over a decade.

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