Gilo Construction 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
A decision by the Interior Ministry in March 2010 during the visit of US Vice
President Joe Biden to issue a tender for the construction of a new housing
project in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, which is over the Green Line,
sparked a mini-crisis with the US and brought ties between the two countries to
their lowest point in years.
RELATED:'Gilo a neighborhood in heart of J'lem, not a settlement'
A similar decision by the Interior Ministry
last week, this one having to do with a plan to build a new project in the
Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is also over the Green Line, triggered a
tough phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but a relatively tepid
response from Washington.
The US State Department sufficed with calling
the plans “counterproductive.” Gilo 2011 is not Ramat Shlomo 2010, and one of
the reasons why has to do with the lack of the element of surprise. This
time Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not taken by surprise by the Interior
Ministry announcement, and it is safe to assume that – as a result – the
Americans were not surprised either.
Asked in his Rosh Hashana interview
with The Jerusalem Post
whether the Americans were aware of the Gilo plan,
Netanyahu said, “They know this; they have followed this for a long
time. There is really nothing new.”
Back in 2010, Netanyahu said
the Ramat Shlomo decision was an Interior Ministry bureaucratic move that he
knew nothing about in advance, and that he was as surprised by its timing as was
Biden. Building plans for projects in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem do
not customarily come across his desk, he argued.
But following that
incident, and the problems it caused with the Obama administration, a mechanism
was established whereby Netanyahu was to be informed of projects and tenders
beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem.
In other words, Netanyahu – as he
made clear in his interview with the Post
– knew that the Interior Ministry was
going to deal with a project last Thursday, but decided not to
Since it is safe to assume he also knew this would only
complicate efforts to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table on the
basis of the new Quartet framework for talks, and that it would also lead to
international condemnation, the question that needs to be asked is why he chose
not to intervene? One of the reasons has to do with domestic politics, and the
other with Israel’s negotiating position vis-à-vis the
Regarding the domestic political consideration, had
Netanyahu ordered the Interior Ministry not to approve plans for the project at
this time, it would have made as big a splash domestically as the decision to go
ahead with the project made overseas.
Intervention by Netanyahu on this
matter is not something that could have been done quietly, since the Interior
Ministry is in the hands of Shas, the party that sees itself as the guardians of
Jerusalem, and would not likely have let such a move go by unnoticed.
unprecedented decision to hold up a project inside Jerusalem’s municipal borders
because of concern of how it would be interpreted abroad would have caused
Netanyahu not only political problems with Shas, but also with Avigdor
Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu. Netanyahu’s political stability and coalition calm
would have been dealt a serious blow.
Instead, as Netanyahu told the
, “We plan in Jerusalem. We build in Jerusalem. Period. The same way Israeli
governments have been doing for 44 years, since the end of the 1967
When Netanyahu says those words, they are not only geared at his
domestic audience, but for the Palestinians as well.
government, indeed, has held up building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem
beyond the Green Line since the Six Day War. For Netanyahu to do so would
be tantamount to a major pre-negotiations concession to the Palestinians, at a
time when the Palestinians have given no indication of a willingness to
reciprocate with a concession of their own.
While Merkel may believe that
Gilo is “near Jerusalem,” as she told Netanyahu in their telephone conversation
last week, Netanyahu and the vast majority of this country views it as an
integral part of Jerusalem. Therefore, there is huge significance in stopping or
even postponing construction of a Jewish neighborhood in the capital because of
Palestinian or international pressure.
This is not something Netanyahu
would likely consider in any circumstance, let alone when the Palestinians are
in the midst of waging a “diplomatic intifada” against Israel at the UN.