Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is in Washington this week to meet with senior United States officials. In a news conference held during his tour, Barkat took a firm stance on the Obama administration's pressure to stop building houses for Jews in eastern Jerusalem, saying a construction freeze would be “illegal”.
“There's no freeze... We're going to build, and we're not going to stop it,” Barkat told reporters. “It is illegal to stop it.”
Barkat admitted that construction in certain parts of the city had temporarily slowed following the Obama administration's angry reaction to a housing project in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, in northern Jerusalem. However, he said, the slowdown was a momentary gesture of respect for the US, and construction has since picked up steam again.
Barkat added that the Jerusalem municipality will not change its planning process despite the diplomatic incident regarding Ramat Shlomo. The city will continue to approve construction without involving the prime minister, he said. “It doesn't work like that,” he said. “Each of us has his own authority and his own decisions to make.”
During his visit Barkat met with several US lawmakers, among them House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor. Cantor backed Barkat's statement that Jerusalem will remain Israel's united capital, and said that both Democrats and Republicans back that view, despite the position taken by Obama and his staff.
Gathering support for continuing Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem appears to be a central goal of Barkat's trip.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have pushed for a freeze on construction of Jewish housing in all parts of Jerusalem east of the 1949 armistice line, including those neighborhoods such as Mei Shiloach (Silwan) and the Old City that are historically Jewish. The Palestinian Authority demands those neighborhoods as part of a future PA state, to be established in Judea and Samaria with Jerusalem as its capital.