Now that the elections in Jerusalem are over, and with murderous Palestinian terrorists having been freed from prison, there seems to be an across-the-board desire to resume Jewish construction in the capital. The question is: Will this new enthusiasm last long enough for tractors to actually start work?
Prime Minister Netanyahu, under whose watch Jewish construction in the outlying areas of the Holy City has ground to a resounding halt, let it be known that together with last week’s release of killers from prison, he will initiate construction in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (Yesha). And in fact, the Housing Ministry announced this week plans for 1,000 new housing units in large Yesha towns – though not in the smaller ones that need it most – and 700 more in Jerusalem.
Specifically, Gilo, Har Homa and Ramat Shlomo – among the Jerusalem neighborhoods liberated from Jordanian control during the Six-Day War – are scheduled to gain hundreds of apartments. In Yesha, the 1,030 new units will be distributed among Elkanah, Beitar Illit, Karnei Shomron, Maaleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Adam, and Ariel (in descending order).
It is said that Netanyahu’s sudden benevolence is an attempt to offset the popular resentment and anger at his government’s release of terrorist murderers. Fifty-two such killers have already been freed in the framework of the ongoing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority – half the total set to be freed as the talks proceed.
This could be a case of getting hit with the fish, paying for it, and having to eat it in any event. For one thing, the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party doesn’t accept the gesture. “Don’t do us any favors,” party officials told Netanyahu. “Don’t release terrorists and don’t build.”
The Yesha Council of Jewish Communities responded similarly: “Releasing terrorists is a terrible mistake both morally and politically. We object even if it is bound up with decisions to build.”
In addition, the PA used the occasion to attack Israel for “sabotaging” the talks and violating their pre-conditions, and its top negotiator even announced his resignation. Though their accusations are totally false – Israel agreed beforehand with U.S. Secretary of State Kerry that no restrictions would apply to Israeli construction during the talks – the international damage to Israel’s reputation has been done.
And in the end, who says the construction will actually ever happen? In the face of international condemnation, it could very well be that the building plans – so necessary for the vitality of Israel’s economy, both inside and outside of Yesha – will go the way of last month’s Hebron announcement: Following a murderous terrorist attack, Netanyahu announced that Jews would be allowed to populate the Jewish-owned Beit HaMachpelah building – and the next day the decision was reversed.
On the municipal level, newly reelected mayor Nir Barkat gave a nod towards the nationalist camp when he said, “I believe we must build [in Jerusalem]; we dare not hesitate. If it were up to us [in the municipality], we would run with it.” He specifically mentioned Gilo, Har Homa, Pisgat Ze’ev – all liberated in 1967 – and other neighborhoods.
Barkat’s political opponents don’t take his pledge very seriously, however. Housing Minister Uri Ariel blames him not for not building, but for not protesting: “It’s the fault of my boss,” he told a crowd of supporters, referring to the prime minister’s construction halt, “but why don’t we see Barkat making an outcry?”
Ariel and Barkat actually agree that there must be no linkage between building in the capital and a possible diplomatic agreement with the PA. “The very attempt to [make an agreement dependent on not building] is the true obstacle,” Barkat said. Ariel was even more pointed, saying:
“Can you imagine any other country forbidding Jews to build houses? We would all run out to the streets to cry out and protest – but here it passes quietly… Netanyahu is not even allowing us to make zoning plans. The construction permits of today are from two years ago. The few hundred new units we obtained are far from enough! We need a minimum of 4,000 new units in Jerusalem each year.”
According to the PA-sympathetic Ir Amim organization, last year saw a record number of tenders issued for housing units in post-1967 neighborhoods – a grand total of 2,386. Keep in mind that this brings up the average number for the past 11 years to the grand total of 877 – quite a bit less than the 4,000 Minister Ariel demands.
About the Author: Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel's minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.
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