Israel brushes off criticism of Jerusalem building

Sunday, October 17, 2010 |  Ryan Jones

Israel’s Housing Minister on Saturday brushed off weekend criticism of Israel’s decision to allow the building of 240 new apartments in Jewish neighborhoods on the eastern side of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians claim eastern Jerusalem as their future capital, and insist that peace talks cannot move forward unless Jewish construction there comes to a full halt.

Playing to the Palestinian position, France expressed “deep disappointment” at the approval of new building in the Ramot and Pisgat Zeev neighborhoods. “France calls on Israel to reconsider this decision,” said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “The Israeli government’s plans are perceived with extreme concern and disappointment in Moscow. They contradict international efforts aimed at the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

Even US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley laid into Israel, saying that the Obama Administration was “disappointed by the announcement of new [building] tenders,” calling the renewed construction “contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”

Israeli Housing Minister Ariel Atias cautioned that international leaders were giving the Palestinians precisely the excuse they were looking for to scuttle peace talks.

“[Palestinian leader Mahmoud] Abbas is hanging on to straw in order not to return to the talks,” Atias told Israel’s Ynet news portal, adding, “We must not get the Palestinians and the world used to having Jerusalem under a freeze, even in a passive acceptance. This is Israel’s capital and a matter of consensus to the Israeli public.”

Atias noted, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has numerous times, that Jewish building in Jerusalem never prevented peace negotiations in the past, and that the Palestinians are now making it a sticking point is evidence that their intentions are not genuine.

Israel did find some international backing.

US Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY), chairman of the congressional Subcommittee on the Middle East and Asia, declared, “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is not a settlement. As such, the resumption of construction in Jerusalem is not a justification for a crisis, a showdown, a meltdown or even a hissy fit.”

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