x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

No halt to east Jerusalem construction, says Israeli interior minister

Vows to keep building Jewish homes and demolishing unauthorised Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem - despite indications Israeli leader has put the brakes on both.

JERUSALEM // The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish coalition partners vowed today to keep building Jewish homes and demolishing unauthorised Palestinian homes in 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 Mr 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.

Today, the 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 claim 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," Mr Yishai, whose ministry has the final sign-off on Jerusalem construction, told Shas' Yom Leyom weekly.

He was also quoted as saying he plans to convene the Jerusalem planning committee soon to move ahead with new construction projects. A day earlier, the public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, said demolitions of unauthorised Palestinian homes had been postponed in the past so as not to hurt efforts to renew peace talks. But demolitions, he said, would resume within days. "If there was a postponement, it's no longer in effect," he told parliament.

The demolitions have become a hot-button issue because the Palestinians claim that Israel gives them no choice but to build in east Jerusalem without authorisation because it gives them very few permits. Mr Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev and the US Consulate in Jerusalem had no comment on the ministers' remarks. 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 the Al Aqsa mosque, where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. Mr Netanyahu maintains Israel has the right to build in all of Jerusalem and says he will not share the city with the Palestinians. But the Palestinians, the US and the rest of the international community do not recognise the annexation and presume sovereignty will be shared between Israel and the Palestinians under any final agreement.

Both the Jewish construction and the demolition of Palestinian homes have provoked sharp criticism from the Obama administration. Israel's announcement in March, during a visit by the US vice president, Joe Biden, that it planned to build 1,600 homes for Jews in an existing neighbourhood infuriated the Americans and provoked the Palestinians to postpone the US-mediated talks until earlier this month.

But an Associated Press investigation in late April revealed that Israel had imposed a de facto moratorium freeze on new Jewish construction in east Jerusalem after the Biden visit. And the last demolition of a Palestinian home in east Jerusalem was carried out in October. Both developments suggest Mr Netanyahu might have a quiet understanding with Washington to keep declaring its right to build Jewish homes and demolish unauthorised Palestinian ones while in practice doing neither.

Both ministers are members of Mr Netanyahu's coalition and would be privy to his decisions. * AP