By Shlomo Cesana, Yori Yalon and Gideon Allon
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials slammed the European Union’s condemnation of Israel’s plan to build 800 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, with Netanyahu on Sunday affirming that the Jewish state would not “impose any restrictions on housing projects in our capital.”
Gilo is located beyoned the 1949 Green Line in the southern portion of eastern Jerusalem, and was land won by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Some 40,000 Jews live there. On Oct. 19, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she “deeply regrets” Israel’s plans to construct new housing there.
“Settlements are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible,” she said.
Netanyahu, however, explained the following at his cabinet meeting Sunday: “Just as [they] build in London, Paris, Washington and Moscow, we build in Jerusalem, and our bond with our capital is as ancient and as powerful [as other countries' ties to their own capitals].”
Last year, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel said plans to build additional housing units in Gilo cast doubt on Israel’s willingness to seek peace, Netanyahu responded that Gilo “is not a settlement.”
“It’s a neighborhood in Jerusalem that is only a few minutes’ drive from my home and my office in central Jerusalem,” he said at the time. “I will not accept any demand to stop building in Jerusalem. We have always built there and will continue to do so.”
Netanyahu’s response to the EU’s Ashton echoed Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who on Saturday dismissed the EU’s disapproval of the Gilo construction as unwarranted interference with Israel’s domestic affairs. Lieberman told the 27-country EU bloc to attend to its own problems instead.
Lieberman said in a statement immediately following Ashton’s comments that such automatic censures “attest to a fundamental lack of ability to understand regional reality” and “merely encourage the Palestinian side to continue to refuse to sit and negotiate, and to pursue anti-Israel activity in the international sphere.”
“Gilo is an inseparable part of Jerusalem,” Lieberman said, “and Jerusalem is an inseparable part of Israel. Anyone who wants to promote reaching an agreement [between Israel and the Palestinians] must focus on preventing such actions as those led by the Palestinian Authority chairman, and not on [preventing] construction of housing for peaceful citizens who are not disturbing anyone.”
Lieberman suggested that the EU “focus, for now, on the problems arising among the various peoples and national groups on Europe’s territory, and once there is a successful solution we would be happy to hear recommendations for solving the problems with the Palestinians.”
Lieberman’s criticism of the EU continued on Sunday morning in an interview with Army Radio: “People who have never visited Gilo don’t understand what it is. We expect a more in-depth and direct point of view from the EU, to maintain fairness and balance with respect to the State of Israel. To me it is clear, without preaching, that Gilo, where 33,000 Jews live just seven minutes drive from the Foreign Ministry, is an integral part of Jerusalem.”
Directing his response to Army Radio interviewer Razi Barkai, Lieberman continued: “Jerusalem is not a settlement. Perhaps it is a settlement for you.”
Lieberman also reiterated that Gilo was not negotiable and that generations of Israeli governments had built in the neighborhood.
“We talk a lot about red lines, and one of them is not to negotiate with anyone about Jerusalem. It is Israeli law; I respect the laws of Israel before I respect other laws.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat firmly rejected the EU’s condemnation, saying, “We will continue to build tens of thousands of apartments throughout the city and for all sectors. Only continued construction without compromise, as we are doing now, will lower housing prices and allow young people to live in Jerusalem and build the future.”
Likud MK Danny Danon said, “Just as Brussels is a Belgian city, Gilo is a legitimate neighborhood of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”
Israel has expressed concern over the Palestinians’ plan to sidestep the deadlocked talks by asking the United Nations next month to upgrade their member status, and has lobbied the Europeans and others to oppose the move.
This story first appeared in Israel Hayom and is distributed with the permission of that newspaper.