FM attacks EU for Gilo construction condemnation

Ashton says construction separates east J'lem from W. Bank; Liberman describes Gilo as "an inseparable part of Jerusalem.”

Gilo Construction 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Gilo Construction 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
The EU’s condemnation of Israeli building in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood harms the peace process and ignores the fact that the unified city is Israel’s capital, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Saturday.
He spoke one day after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned a plan to build 797 homes in Gilo and called it settlement building.
An Interior Ministry regional planning committee gave initial approval to the project in June and completed the planning process on Thursday, according to Hagit Ofran of Peace Now.
But before construction can begin, the Ministry of Construction and Housing and/or the Israel Lands Authority must call for tenders and the Jerusalem Municipality must issue building permits.
The international community and the Palestinians have long called on Israel to halt Jewish building in east Jerusalem, saying the area should be part of a Palestinian state.
Israel says a united Jerusalem will remain part of Israel and is not a settlement.
Mayor Nir Barkat said on Saturday, “Gilo is an inseparable part of Jerusalem and we are not going to apologize for that. We will continue to build tens of thousands of apartments across the entire city for all sectors. The only way to lower the price of apartments is to continue building without stopping, as we are now doing in order to allow young people to live in Jerusalem and build themselves a future.”
On Friday, Ashton’s office said Israel’s continued expansion of Gilo was regrettable.
“Settlements are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. The EU has repeatedly urged the government of Israel to immediately end all settlement activities in the West Bank, including in east Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under the road map,” her office said.
Construction in Gilo as well as in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa “continue the process of separating east Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory,” Ashton’s office said.
“The European Union maintains that negotiations continue to represent the best way forward in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Continuous expansion of settlements makes this all the more difficult,” the office said.
Liberman, who is also chairman of Yisrael Beytenu, shot back on Saturday by saying it was the condemnation of such building that hampered any possibility of renewing direct negotiations with the Palestinians, which the Palestinians have largely frozen for almost four years.
“These automatic condemnations indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of the region,” Liberman said.
“These condemnations do not contribute anything to the advancement of talks between Israelis and Palestinians. They only encourage the Palestinians to continue to refuse to participate in negotiations and to continue their anti-Israeli activity in the international arena.”
Those who want to help the sides to reach a final-status agreement should work to stop the Palestinians from this anti- Israeli activity, said Liberman, rather than condemning construction for peaceful civilians that harms no one.
“The Gilo neighborhood is an inseparable part of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is an inseparable part of Israel,” the foreign minister said.
He added that the EU’s efforts would be better spent on problems between different groups and nations on its own continent.
“Afterwards we’d be happy to hear suggestions as to how to solve problems with the Palestinians,” he said.
With an eye toward January’s election, right-wing politicians immediately issued statements about the party’s commitment to a untied Jerusalem as the country’s capital.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) said, “It’s strange that at a time when the Middle East is burning, thousands of Syrian civilians are begin killed, Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, the thing that worries the EU is construction in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.”
It shows how “irrelevant” the EU is when it comes to matters in this region, he said.
“Our right to Jerusalem is not less than that of the British to London, or the French to Paris,” Sa’ar said.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) called on Liberman to protest the EU’s statement by canceling a visit due next month by EU representatives.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said the Netanyahu government had nothing to be proud of, because it had a poor record of building in the capital.
The United Kingdom joined Ashton in condemning the Gilo construction.
Britain’s Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt also said settlements were illegal and undermined a two-state solution. “It is deeply worrying that despite repeatedly raising our concerns, Israel continues to press ahead with plans to expand them. I therefore strongly condemn [Thursday’s] news,” Burt said. “This move is contrary to Israel’s stated commitments to both the two-state solution and to upholding international law. We urge Israel to reverse this decision and take no further steps to expand settlements.”
Melanie Lidman and Reuters contributed to this report.