Monday, July 20, 2009

Israel backs East Jerusalem housing construction despite U.S. opposition

From the LA Times, July 19, 2009, by Jeffrey Fleishman and Batsheva Sobelman:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Jews have the right to build in an area annexed after the Six-Day War in 1967.....Calling Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem indisputable, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today rejected U.S. demands to stop plans to build 20 Jewish-owned apartments in the eastern part of the city...

The decision to allow new housing on land annexed by Israel after the 1967 war probably will further agitate relations with the Obama administration, which has been pressuring Netanyahu to halt the expansion of settlements in hopes of reviving the Middle East peace process and enticing Arab nations to normalize relations with Jewish state.

The sensitivity concerning the project, proposed by a Jewish American millionaire, was highlighted over the weekend when Israeli officials said the country's ambassador to Washington, Michael B. Oren, was summoned to the State Department. But Netanyahu, referring to news reports about the U.S. opposition to the plan, was unwavering, saying that a united Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and that there would be no limits on Jewish construction.

While refusing to rule out natural growth in existing settlements, Israel has pledged not to build new settlements and not to confiscate more land. But Israel doesn't consider projects in East Jerusalem to be settlements, but rather legitimate expansions in a section of the city it captured in the Six-Day War.

"We cannot accept the idea that Jews will not have the right to live and purchase [homes] anywhere in Jerusalem," Netanyahu told reporters at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting. "I can only imagine what would happen if someone would propose that Jews could not live in certain neighborhoods of New York, London, Paris or Rome. There would certainly be a major international outcry. We cannot accept such a decree in Jerusalem."

... Ophir Akunis, a Likud party member of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, said, "All countries in the world must understand that on the issue of Jerusalem, we will not receive dictates."

The project in East Jerusalem is funded by U.S. businessman Irving Moskowitz, who has backed a number of housing projects in the city. It calls for building 20 apartments on land that includes the old Shepherd's Hotel, which was originally constructed in the 1930s for the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Husseini. After the Six-Day War, the hotel became a courthouse under the Israeli Ministry of Justice. It has been empty for about 15 years. The Jerusalem Planning Committee, which approved Moskowitz's project, said copies of the proposal were given to the U.S. and British consulates.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in statement, "According to the High Court of Israel, Jews, Muslims and Christians alike can purchase land in all parts of the city of Jerusalem."
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