Friday, May 14, 2010

JERUSALEM | Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish coalition partners vowed Thursday to keep building Jewish homes and demolishing unauthorized Palestinian homes in contested 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 tightrope he has to walk in trying to address the conflicting demands of his political allies at home and Israel’s strongest ally abroad.

On Thursday, 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 is authorized to approve Jerusalem construction, told Shas’ Yom Leyom weekly.

He also was quoted as saying he plans to convene the Jerusalem planning committee soon to move ahead with new construction projects.

A day earlier, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said demolitions of unauthorized 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“If there was a postponement, it’s no longer in effect,” he told parliament.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 Palestinians say Israel gives them no choice but to build in East Jerusalem without authorization because it gives them very few permits.

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem had no comment on the ministers’ remarks.

But in a statement, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on his fellow government ministers not to make inflammatory statements about Jerusalem.

“These statements hurt Israel’s interests with the U.S. and the world in general,” said Mr. Barak, whose centrist Labor Party is the most moderate member of the governing coalition.

“These statements could make Israel look like it is obstructing peace, and undermine its international standing.”

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 Muhammad ascended to heaven.

About 193,000 Jews have moved to East Jerusalem in the past 43 years, where they live alongside 263,000 Palestinians.

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