Israel Defies US on Al-Quds Building
CAIRO — In a new face-off between the two close allies, the Israeli government spurned on Sunday, July 19, American calls to halt plans to build more homes for Jewish settlers in a neighborhood of Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem).
"We cannot accept the idea that Jews will not have the right to live or to build anywhere in east Jerusalem," hawkish Premier Benjamin Netanyahu told a weekly cabinet meeting.
"We cannot accept such restrictions."
The US State Department summoned Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren over the weekend to advise him to halt a construction project that would see a hotel converted into housing units for Jewish settlers.
American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, an influential supporter of Jewish settlement in Al-Quds, purchased the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Al-Quds in 1985.
Israeli authorities have approved plans to tear the hotel down and construct 20 apartments plus a three-level underground parking lot.
"Unified Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Our sovereignty over it is unquestionable," insisted Netanyahu.
Israel captured and occupied Al-Quds in the six-day 1967 war, then annexed the holy city in a move not recognized by the world community or UN resolutions.
The city is home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam's third holiest shrine Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Palestinians insist the holy city will be the capital of their future independent state.
Some Israeli lawmakers opened fire at the Netanyahu government over the controversial building.
"Construction in the heart of Arab neighborhoods is not an Israeli interest," insists Maretz party leader Haim Oron.
"(It is) rather a real-estate interest and the interest of those who wish to set the area on fire.
"Anyone deluding himself to the effect that east Jerusalem is not part of the territories and Israel can continue to act in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as if there is no international community, receives a slap from time to time."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also lashed out at the Israeli scheme.
"If the Israeli prime minister continues with settlement activities, he will undermine efforts to revive the peace process," he warned.
"(He must realize) that settlements and peace are two parallels that do not go together."
The US and Israel are at loggerheads over US President Barack Obama's call for a total freeze of all settlement activity in occupied Palestinian territories.
Under the internationally-backed roadmap, Israel must freeze all settlement activities and dismantle outposts constructed after March 2001.
The international community considers all Jewish settlements on the occupied Palestinian land illegal.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has reiterated concerns over continued construction in the settlements, saying he would not renew negotiations with Israel as long as such construction persisted.