Jerusalem mayor blasts Obama over construction criticism

Thursday, December 06, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Monday slammed the Obama Administration for once again pressuring Israel over where it can and cannot build in and around its own capital city.

"I don't know of any city in the world whose regulator is the US president," Barkat said during a conference in Herzliya on affordable housing.

Barkat was responding to American criticism over Israel's approval this week of long-standing plans to expand the Jerusalem suburb of Ma'aleh Adumim to the adjacent hill known as "E1".

Israel finally approved the plans as punitive action for the Palestinian Authority's unilateral effort to receive official recognition at the UN.

But Barkat said the planned construction has been and remains crucial to providing affordable housing in the capital, which is Israel's most densely populated city.

Successive American governments have condemned Israel's plans for E1, even though it is a barren hill completely controlled by Israel, because the Palestinians say Israeli construction there will negatively impact their plans to gain sovereignty over the eastern half of Jerusalem.

But like most other Israeli leaders, Barkat views these areas as disputed, not occupied, and therefore either everyone must be allowed to build there, or no one must be allowed to build there.

"When the world talks about a freeze in Jerusalem, I ask, a freeze on what? ...Should we stop construction for Arabs, Christians or Jews?" questioned Barkat.

Does the Obama Administration mean to say that "when an entrepreneur approaches me, I should, heaven forbid, ask him what religion he subscribes to so he can receive a permit to build in Jerusalem?" the mayor continued. "That would be horrendous and it negates even US law."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was adamant this week that his government would not back down on its decision regarding the new construction.

On Wednesday, Israel's Civil Administration Planning Council approved the E1 building plans. There will now be a 60-day waiting period during which the Israeli public can file objections to the plans, after which the District Planning Committee will provide final approval.

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