The battle of words over Jewish rights to build and purchase homes in Jerusalem continued Monday and Tuesday with statements from the U.S. State Department and prominent Jewish groups.
Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley told members of the media that the U.S. continues to oppose Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem, but he added that the Jewish state’s rejection of American demands is not a new issue.
“We have made our views to – known to Israel. Our views are not new either, that this kind of construction is the type of thing that should be – is the type of issue that should be subject to permanent status negotiations, and that we are concerned that unilateral actions taken by the Israelis or the Palestinians cannot prejudge the outcome of these negotiations,” Crowley said.
He noted that the State Department is “working hard through George Mitchell and others to create conditions so that you can have a resumption of negotiations that would lead the parties to address these final status issues.” Crowley confirmed that U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell will be in the region later this week.
The recent tension began when Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren was urgently summoned to the State Department over the weekend to hear that Israel must stop a private construction project at the site of the Jewish-owned Shepherd Hotel in eastern Jerusalem.
Rejecting American officials' demand to halt the project, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Jewish residents of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and the Jewish people, can purchase homes in any area of the city just like Arab residents can.
“Jerusalem is not included in discussions with the U.S. about a settlement freeze,” he said. “This is the policy of an open city, an undivided city that has no divisions according to religion or national affiliation.”
Orthodox Groups Praise Netanyahu
Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments and his stated position on the future of Jerusalem earned him commendation Monday from the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI), a coordinating agency for Orthodox congregations in the U.S. and Canada.
“It is essential that we tell the Israeli government that we support them and stand together with them in their effort to protect the Jewish homeland,” NCYI President Shlomo Mostofsky said in a press statement. “Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to know that hundreds of thousands of American Jews and countless friends of Israel wholeheartedly endorse the idea that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel.”
He praised the prime minister’s “unequivocal declaration that Jerusalem’s sovereignty is not in dispute, and that Israel will not bow to external pressure that attempts to dictate Israeli policy on Jerusalem,” said Mostofsky, who urged American Jews to contact the Israeli Embassy to voice their support for Netanyahu’s position on Jerusalem.
The Orthodox Union (OU) Jewish umbrella organization joined NCYI in supporting Netanyahu and rejecting U.S. pressures. "The Orthodox Union disagrees with the position of the United States that, like Jewish settlement activities in other areas of Judea and Samaria, Israel must not permit new Jewish residency or construction is eastern sections of Jerusalem. We remain partners with you... for the continued preservation of Jerusalem’s unity as the Jewish people’s holy and eternal capital."
In a statement, the OU pledged to “continue our commitment to Israel and Jerusalem through our service programs at our Israel Center in Jerusalem and through our advocacy for Israel’s interests in Washington, DC.”
The Shepherd Hotel property has been owned by Dr. Irving Moskowitz since 1985. The Land of Israel activist has built other projects in eastern Jerusalem as well, most notably the Maaleh HaZeitim neighborhood in what local Arabs have dubbed Ras el-Amud, below and to the south of the Temple Mount.