Israelis: No halt to east Jerusalem construction
JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish coalition partners vowed Thursday to keep building Jewish settlements and demolishing unauthorized Palestinian homes in contested east Jerusalem — despite indications the Israeli leader has put the brakes on both.
The United States opposes both at this delicate time, when indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians have just begun. The remarks by Netanyahu's partners show the thin tightrope he has to walk in trying to address the conflicting demands of his political allies at home and Israel's strongest ally abroad.
On Thursday, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party reasserted his claim that Israel would never freeze construction in east Jerusalem, the sector of the holy city that Palestinians want for a future capital.
"We will build in every part of Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people's homeland for eternity, and I made this clear to our American friends and colleagues as well," Yishai, whose ministry approves Jerusalem construction, told a weekly newspaper published by his party.
He was also quoted as saying he would convene a municipal planning committee soon to advance new projects.
A day earlier, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said demolitions of unauthorized Palestinian homes would resume within days after having been put on hold so they wouldn't hobble efforts to renew peace talks.
"If there was a postponement, it's no longer in effect," he told parliament.
The two Cabinet ministers did not disclose specific plans or dates, indicating that their statements were directed toward the Israeli public, not an international audience.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev had no comment. A U.S. government official in Jerusalem urged both sides to refrain from statements that could be considered incitement and actions that could prejudice the negotiations. He spoke on condition of anonymity because no official statement was made.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on his fellow Cabinet members in a statement to avoid inflammatory comments about Jerusalem.
"These statements hurt Israel's interests with the U.S. and the world in general," said Barak, whose centrist Labor Party is the most moderate member of Netanyahu's coalition. "These statements could make Israel look like it is obstructing peace, and undermine its international standing."
Sovereignty over Jerusalem is the most emotionally charged issue dividing Israel and the Palestinians.
The eastern sector of the city, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and immediately annexed, is home to a contested site that houses both the sole remnant of the biblical Jewish Temples and Islam's third-holiest shrine.
About 263,000 Palestinians and 193,000 Jews live there.
Netanyahu maintains Israel has the right to build in all of Jerusalem and won't share the city with the Palestinians. The international community does not recognize Israel's annexation and presumes sovereignty would be shared between Israel and the Palestinians under any final agreement.
Both the Jewish construction and the demolition of Palestinian homes have provoked sharp rebukes from the Obama administration. Israel's announcement in March, during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, that it planned a major expansion of an existing Jewish neighborhood caused a feud with the Americans and prompted the Palestinians to back out of U.S.-mediated talks.
In practice, however, Israel has imposed a de facto moratorium freeze on new Jewish construction in east Jerusalem since the Biden visit, and the last time Israel razed a Palestinian home in east Jerusalem was in October.
The construction curbs have caused dissent among Israeli hard-liners, prompting the most extreme of them to attack Palestinians and their property. On Wednesday, the visiting U.S. deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Paul J. Selva, told Israeli officials he was concerned about those attacks, an Israeli foreign ministry official said. Israel told him it was already taking steps, ministry spokesman Ashley Perry said.
Associated Press writer Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.