U.S. administration officials voiced their anger over the decision. Special U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell relayed to the Israeli government a request from the Americans not to build in Gilo.
A few hours after that news emerged, the Jerusalem municipality’s District Committee for Planning and Construction unanimously approved the plans to expand the built-up area in the northwestern part of the neighborhood. Within sixty days, after objections to the plans have been submitted, the plans will reach the implementation stage.
“Israeli law does not discriminate between Jews and Arabs,” explained Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. “The demand to stop construction for Jews only is not legal, neither in the United States nor anywhere else in the world.”
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Israel Interior Minister Eli Yishai said: “We won’t permit construction in Jerusalem to be stopped.”
However, U.S. administration officials responded to the decision sharply.
“While we’re working to renew the negotiations, an act of that sort makes it even harder for our efforts to succeed,” said a high-ranking State Department source. “This is a unilateral step, and we’ve demanded of both sides not to take any such steps. Our position is clear, Jerusalem is a final status arrangement issue.”
An official statement released by the White House noted the administration was “dismayed” by the decision, and that the United States also objected to other Israeli actions in Jerusalem that pertained to construction, including the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and the demotion of Palestinian buildings.
A U.S. administration official said that the Israeli government had “given a slap in the face to the United States’ efforts to bring about successful dialogue between the parties.”
The decision to approve the construction in Gilo was perceived by the U.S. administration as a departure from the agreements that had been reached in the previous number of weeks.
“Israel is taking unilateral measures while it demands that the world oppose unilateral measures by the Palestinians,” said an American official. “That isn’t going to work on the ground. We’re disappointed in (Israel Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu.”
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Bureau rejected the American criticism and said: “The Gilo neighborhood is an integral part of Jerusalem, just as Ramat Eshkol, Rehavia, French Hill and Pisgat Zeev are. This issue is part of a broad national consensus.”
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Bureau said that “construction in the Gilo neighborhood has been underway continually for dozens of years and there is nothing new in the construction permit procedures.”
They added that there was no crisis in relations between Israel and the United States.
Rules Of The Game
If anyone among the Israeli decision-makers still believed the Americans would ultimately get on with business as usual in the aftermath of the Israeli decision to build 900 housing units in Gilo, along came reality and slapped them in the face.
The U.S. administration does not accept the Israeli decision to apply Israeli law to any area acquired by Israel in the wake of the 1967 war.
Even more important to remember is that the American government does not recognize any part of Jerusalem as an integral part of Israel.
All documents processed by the American government in Jerusalem – passports, birth certificates, affidavits and even death certificates are stamped “Jerusalem” with no nation state mentioned.
Instead, successive U.S. administrations abide by the UN’s 1949 definition of Jerusalem as an international zone.
While lobbyists for Israel have, for many years, tried to influence countless American administrations to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, very few of Israel’s friends abroad ask the American government to simply recognize Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, as a part of Israel.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org