Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Wednesday called US President Barack Obama's strong criticism of the building of additional Jewish homes in a Jewish neighborhood of the Israeli capital a position based on racism.
"Israeli law does not discriminate between Jews, Muslims, and Christians or between eastern and western Jerusalem. The demand to halt construction by religion is not legal in the United States or in any other free place in the world. I do not presume that any government would demand to freeze construction in the United States based on race, religion or gender and the attempt to demand it from Jerusalem is a double standard and
The Jerusalem mayor was responding to Obama's remarks to Fox News earlier in the day, in which the president referred to the approval of 900 new apartments in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo as "settlement activity," and suggested that it justified further Palestinian violence.
Many Israeli lawmakers publicly agreed with Barkat, including opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who told visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that "Gilo is part of the Israeli consensus, and that understanding is important for every discussion on the final borders of any future agreement."
Kouchner took a lighter view of the issue than Obama, and told reporters that he didn't feel the construction of additional Jewish apartments in a neighborhood where so many Jews already live should in any way hinder the peace process.
But the Palestinians took their cue from Obama. Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat was quick to confirm that the Palestinians, too, view the Jewish presence in Gilo as settlement activity, and do not feel they can make peace with Israel so long as it continues.
Built in 1971, Gilo was a barren hilltop when it was liberated by Israel from illegal Jordanian occupation in the 1967 Six Day War. Today it is home to more than 30,000 Israelis, and an integral part of Jerusalem.