(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was mistaken when she called upon Israel to reconsider its plan to build more than 300 housing units in Har Homa, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said on a tour of the outlying Jerusalem neighborhood on Wednesday.
Lieberman purposely visited Har Homa at the same time that the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams launched the final-status peace talks.
The visit was intended to send a message to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert not to give in on Har Homa, despite pressure from the United States and from the Palestinian negotiating team that protested the building plan during the talks.
"I have to correct the State Department," Lieberman said. "They spoke about 300 housing units in Har Homa, but there are 3,000 on the way.
Har Homa's building plan was approved by the government of Yitzhak Rabin when the mayor of Jerusalem was Ehud Olmert. That's as consensus as it gets."
Lieberman came to the neighborhood and spoke to the press near the hilltop where the controversial 300 additional units will be built. When he spoke, sheep grazed in the background on land that will soon house a school, a synagogue and a community center.
"Every Jew has the right to live here," Lieberman said, purposely using the same language former prime minister Ariel Sharon used to justify his controversial visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000.
"When it comes to building in Jerusalem, there are no considerations of timing, politics or pressure. It's incumbent on us to withstand pressure."
Lieberman said he disagreed with the State Department assessment that building on Har Homa would "violate the trust between the Israelis and Palestinians."
He said that if anything, the building plan would increase the trust of Israelis in their own government.
Asked if it bothered him that the Palestinian negotiating team canceled a photo-op ahead of Wednesday's negotiations to protest the building plan, Lieberman said that he hoped the next meeting between the negotiating teams would be canceled completely.
"We are in the government to try to stop the Kassams and Annapolis and so we will continue building here," Lieberman said. "This government will restore order in the Gaza Strip and the Kassams will stop in 2008."
Lieberman called upon Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal to rescind his resignation letter. He said he agreed with Moyal that the government had not done enough to help Sderot. National Union MK Effi Eitam called upon Lieberman to follow Moyal's lead and quit to protest the government's mishandling of Sderot.
Lupolianski, who headed Jerusalem's planning committee when Har Homa was approved, said Rice was "mistaken" for thinking that the neighborhood was a settlement.
"Har Homa is part of Jerusalem and there is no difference between building here and building in Rehavia, Romema or Ramot," Lupolianski said. "I don't see how anyone can be so cynical to raise objections to a plan that has all its permits."
Lupolianski lashed out at Olmert for not budgeting enough money to promote the city. "The American federal government is investing in their capital, Washington, DC, but our government isn't investing in our DC, which is David's City," Lupolianski said.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who also supports building in Har Homa and opposes the negotiations with the Palestinians, will make his own statement on Thursday afternoon when he intends to visit the controversial "Beit Hashalom" in Hebron.
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