A Shas spokesman clarified Thursday that the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, believes that Jews should continue to build in Jerusalem despite United States opposition. “Our teacher, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has instructed Shas head Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai to continue to oppose any building freeze in Jerusalem, in all forums which Minister Yishai is a member,” he said.
The spokesman denied reports in the Hebrew-language daily Maariv, according to which Rabbi Yosef told President Shimon Peres that he supports a temporary halt to construction for Jews in Jerusalem, in order to improve ties with the U.S.
Maariv reported Thursday that Rabbi Yosef had given “explicit support” to a temporary building freeze in Jerusalem. The paper quoted the Sephardic sage as saying, “We need to do everything possible to maintain our relationship with the Americans; we need to pay any price to restore our ties, we must not rise up against the nations of the world.”
The statements were allegedly made in a meeting between President Peres and Rabbi Yosef during the Passover holiday.
The report stated that Peres had attempted to gain Rabbi Ovadia's support for his own proposal, which would see Israel stop all construction for Jews in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem that were under Jordanian control between 1948 and 1967. Construction would go on in the newer Jewish neighborhoods in all parts of the city. According to Maariv, Peres claims that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has expressed support for his plan, but declines to make his support public.
Shas has previously refused to sit in a government which is willing to negotiate over the status of Jerusalem. Netanyahu managed to win the prime minister's seat after gaining Shas as a coalition partner; the party refused to support his rival, Kadima head Tzipi Livni, due to her refusal to promise that she would not relinquish sovereignty over any part of the capital city.