Israel Says No to U.S. Call to Halt Settlement Construction


israel-yerushalayim-settlementsIsrael today rejected a U.S. demand to suspend a planned housing project in east Yerushalayim, threatening to further complicate an unusually tense standoff with its strongest ally over settlement construction. Israeli officials said the country’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, was summoned to the State Department over the weekend and told that a project being developed by an American millionaire in the disputed section of the holy city should not go ahead. Settlements built on captured lands claimed by the Palestinians have emerged as a major sticking point in relations between Israel and the Obama administration because of their potential to disrupt Mideast peacemaking.

Although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently yielded to heavy U.S. pressure to endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has resisted American demands for an immediate freeze on settlement expansion.

Today, Netanyahu told his Cabinet there would be no limits on Jewish construction anywhere in “unified Yerushalayim.”

“We cannot accept the fact that Jews wouldn’t be entitled to live and buy anywhere in Yerushalayim,” Netanyahu declared, calling Israeli sovereignty over the entire city “indisputable.”

The international community considers Jewish neighborhoods in east Yerushalayim to be settlements and an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Israel does not regard them as settlements because it annexed east Yerushalayim in 1967 after capturing it in June of that year.

East Yerushalayim is an especially volatile issue because it is the site of key Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites. The Palestinians want the traditionally Arab sector of the city to be the capital of their future state.

“If the Israeli prime minister continues with settlement activities, he will undermine the efforts to revive the peace process,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

According to Army Radio, the U.S. has demanded that planning approval for the project be revoked.

The approval, granted by the Yerushalayim municipality earlier this month, allows for the construction of 20 apartments plus a three-level underground parking lot.

The east Jerusalem project is being developed by Irving Moskowitz, an influential supporter of Israeli settlement in east Yerushalayim who purchased the Shepherd Hotel in 1985 and plans to tear it down and build apartments in its place.

The Yerushalayim municipality issued a statement saying the purchase was legal and it had acted with “full transparency” in granting building permits.

The hotel is located near a government compound that includes several government ministries and the national police headquarters.

{Yair Israel/AP}