Israeli building underway in holy city
Obama says act hinders peace
JERUSALEM - Israel broke ground on a new housing complex for Jews in east Jerusalem yesterday, brushing off President Obama’s criticism that construction in the disputed part of the holy city undermines efforts to relaunch Mideast peace talks.
The groundbreaking occurred a day after Israel defied American, European, and Palestinian demands to stop settlement activity by announcing it will press forward with construction of 900 apartments in another Jewish area in east Jerusalem.
Speaking to Fox News in Beijing yesterday, Obama criticized the plan to build hundreds of homes in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, saying such moves make it harder to achieve peace in the region. He said the construction embitters Palestinians in a way that could be dangerous.
Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem - areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war - for their hoped-for state and have refused negotiations until Israel stops settlement construction in these areas. The Palestinians say the continued growth of settlements on land they claim will make it impossible for them to establish a viable country of their own.
The Israeli government declined to respond to Obama’s comments. But earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel had no intention of stopping the Gilo construction. He called the neighborhood “an integral part of Israel, an integral part of Jerusalem.’’
The future of east Jerusalem is the most intractable issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The area includes Jerusalem’s walled Old City, home to sensitive Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy sites. Israel annexed east Jerusalem immediately after the 1967 war and claims all of the city as its eternal capital. The annexation was never recognized by other countries.
Speaking in parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not address the tensions with the United States and ignored an Arab lawmaker who asked why he was allowing the new construction in Gilo.
Instead, Netanyahu reiterated his call for an immediate resumption of peace talks and criticized the Palestinians for refusing to return to the table.
“I hope the Palestinians answer our calls for negotiations,’’ he said. “The Palestinians have groomed themselves with unrealistic expectations.’’
As he spoke, however, Israel faced a torrent of international criticism. The European Union said that settlement activity, demolition of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem, and evictions of Palestinian families from contested properties undermine negotiations and “threaten the viability of a two-state solution.’’
In the West Bank, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Gilo project “provides 900 more reasons why hopes for salvaging the two-state solution and restarting genuine negotiations are rapidly fading, and why Israel is not a partner for peace.’’