Netanyahu expedites plan for new homes in East Jerusalem
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that Israel would fast-track planning for more 1,060 new apartments in populous Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, a move that appears calibrated to appeal to the maximum number of Israelis while causing the minimum damage to Israel internationally, according to Israeli analysts.
But as is often the case, Netanyahu’s decision prompted swift international condemnation at a time when Israel’s relations with Washington are already strained and risked further igniting Palestinian ire and tensions in Jerusalem.
It was also unlikely to satisfy the right-wing political rivals it was intended to appease, the analysts said.
Right-wing ministers have been pressuring Netanyahu to speed construction in what most of the world considers illegal settlements in the West Bank.
Naftali Bennett of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party had threatened to destabilize the government coalition, accusing Netanyahu of carrying out a quiet building freeze despite many announcements about the advancement of plans.
Unlike more far-flung settlements in the West Bank, building in East Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the 1967 lines enjoys wide support among Israeli politicians and the public, given the broad consensus in the country that these are areas Israel is likely to keep under any permanent deal with the Palestinians.
Analysts note that the parameters for a two-state solution outlined by President Bill Clinton in 2000 envisioned granting Israel sovereignty over Jewish areas in Jerusalem and the Palestinians sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods, though it is not clear if that allowed for enlarging those Jewish areas over time.
Washington said it was “deeply concerned” by the reports on Monday.
“If Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, told reporters in a briefing.
“Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”
The United States has consistently condemned unilateral steps that could prejudice the outcome of negotiations over East Jerusalem, which Israel conquered from Jordan in the 1967 war then annexed in a move that was never internationally recognized.
Palestinian officials say that Netanyahu has refused to outline the borders of a future Palestinian state or the size of the areas Israel intends to keep, or to commit publicly to land swaps to compensate the Palestinians for any adjustments to the 1967 boundary.