Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will return to Israel this evening (Thursday), continuing to resist American pressure on the matters of Jerusalem and other issues. Netanyahu is returning after a round of talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and senior White House and State Department officials. The Americans continue to press hard for additional Israeli commitments towards the Palestinian Authority, such as no further building in Jerusalem other than in the areas under Israeli control before 1967. The Americans also demand that Israel agree to begin negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on “core issues” such as refugees; meanwhile, the PA refuses to resume negotiations at all.
Netanyahu, however, continues to stand fast. Aides in his office said during Netanyahu’s short trip to Washington that “there is no restrictions on private ownership in Jerusalem. Both Jews and Arabs may freely buy and sell private homes throughout the city.” The reference is to the now-controversial plan to turn a former Arab hotel in the Shimon HaTzaddik (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood into a Jewish apartment building. Known as the Shepherd Hotel, the building was purchased several years ago by Jewish buyers.
Many ministers continue to outspokenly resist the American heavy-handedness, among them Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who said that he is “thankful to the Creator for having the privilege to be the one to advance construction in Jerusalem at this time.” Others said that we must keep to red lines and not give in to American demands, even if it leads to a mini-crisis with the U.S.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said Netanyahu should be praised for insisting on Israel’s interests with the US administration. “We are not a leftist government, and construction in Jerusalem is part of the consensus – it is the capital of the people of Israel,” Hershkowitz said.
“We do not want to fight with our great friend, but our responsibility is towards the people of Israel. We are an independent state and not an American dependant. We must avoid a situation whereby we close down the Knesset and government, hand (US President Barack) Obama the keys and allow him to tell us what to do,” he said.
“If the Americans will realize that the Israeli government has red lines – they will respect that,” he said.