Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly defended in the Knesset on Monday his decision announced in the morning to authorize planning for 1,060 housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the pre-1967 lines.
Netanyahu’s defense during his speech at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session came in advance of an expected wave of condemnations from capitals around the world, including Washington.
He sounded undeterred.
“There is a broad consensus among the public that Israel has the full right to build in the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs,” Netanyahu said. “All Israeli governments have done that over the past 50 years. It is also clear to the Palestinians that these places will remain under Israel’s sovereignty in any future accord.”
Just as the French build in Paris, and the English in London, so too do Israelis build in Jerusalem, the prime minister said.
Of the 1,060 units authorized, 660 are earmarked for the northern neighborhood of Ramot Shlomo, and 400 in the southern neighborhood of Har Homa. Ramat Shlomo was at the center of the brouhaha over post-Green Line construction when US Vice President Joe Biden visited Israel in 2010, and Netanyahu approved the construction of Har Homa in 1997 during his first term in office.
He has also given the green light to move forward infrastructure projects in the West Bank, including – government officials said – roads that will serve the Palestinians as well. The projects are believed to include a renovation project for the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and a Gush Etzion promenade named in memory of the three Israeli teens kidnapped and killed there this summer.
The officials declined to comment on whether there was concern these moves would significantly harm Israel’s position in Europe and the US, which both sharply condemned an announcement earlier this month of moving forward development in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos.
But Netanyahu, in his Knesset address, indicated that he did not seem to care, saying it was not legitimate for people to come and tell Jews not to go live in Jerusalem “because it will heat things up.”
“There are some people for whom there is no good time to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem, or other parts of our country, and if it was up to them, we would not have built a single home for the past 65 years, because the time is never good,” he said.
For some, Israel’s very existence in the region is what “heats things up,” the prime minister said.
“So should we give up on our existence?” he asked. “For thousands of years Jews have prayed, ‘Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem.’ And you say to us not to build, not now. If not now, then when? The answer is never. So we build, as we built from the beginning of the state, as we built Har Homa, as we build today, and we are building today as all Israeli governments have built. And there needs to be a wide consensus on that.”
Following the prime minister’s announcement, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett called for a show of strength in Jerusalem.
“If we show weakness in one arena, our enemies see it on the other side of the border,” he said at a Bayit Yehudi faction meeting.
Bennett accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, “our supposed partner,” of “going back to denying the Holocaust and sympathizing with baby murderers,” displaying a Fatah poster honoring the terrorist who killed three-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun on Wednesday by driving into a crowd in the capital.
“We will not give in to terrorism in the North, nor the South and certainly not in our capital, Jerusalem,” he said.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session that “Jerusalem will not turn into cannon fodder and the neighborhoods [on the Green Line] will not be like Gaza border towns.
“This city lived in peace and security for many years while keeping the dignity and free movement of its residents, whoever they may be, and it must continue to be that way,” Edelstein said.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid spoke out against settlement construction plans, saying they will harm already-tenuous relations with the US and hurt Israel’s international standing.
“When the peace process is stuck, any attempt to build outside the blocs and turn outposts into legal settlements will face our opposition,” he declared at a Yesh Atid faction meeting. “We cannot reach an open conflict with the US.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor), in his speech at the Knesset’s winter session opening ceremony, took a well-known Netanyahu campaign slogan from 1996 – “[Then-prime minister] Peres will divide Jerusalem” – and flipped it, saying “Netanyahu is dividing Jerusalem.”
“Your inability to make decisions is de facto dividing your dear, beloved Jerusalem,” Herzog said. “Jerusalem is burning and you are not taking any significant steps to stop the blaze. You are only adding fuel to the fire.”
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