Recent days have seen conflicting reports on construction in Jerusalem. While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu states that construction in Jerusalem will continue, reports indicate that in practice, Jews are barred from building in some parts of the capital city. Arutz Sheva's Hebrew news service spoke to Jerusalem Construction and Building Planning Committee member Yair Gabbai to clarify the situation.
According to Gabbai, there is definitely a distinction being made between “west” Jerusalem, meaning the territory that has been under Israeli sovereignty since 1948, and “east” Jerusalem, the lands that were under Jordanian control from 1948 until 1967. Recently, officials have begun making a distinction between Jews and Arabs, allowing Arabs to build in neighborhoods where Jews are turned down for construction permits, he said.
"The most recent meetings have taken on a certain apartheid-like quality,” he said. “Construction permits in eastern Jerusalem are given exclusively to Arabs, while in the western half of the city there's no discrimination.”
United States President Barack Obama is behind the de facto construction freeze, Gabbai believes. “[Obama] is the source of the pressure on the prime minister and the government to freeze construction in eastern Jerusalem, even though it's not good for Jerusalem,” he said.
The construction freeze is not only discriminatory, but is even criminal, he said. By law, the entire city of Jerusalem is under Israeli sovereignty, and no distinction should be made between various neighborhoods.
Gabbai suggested two ways in which Israelis can fight the Jerusalem building freeze. One path would be a legal battle. “I'm convinced that if a Jew can prove he's been discriminated against, and that suddenly only Arab construction plans are coming before the committee even though he was supposed to come before the committee as well, the court won't allow it,” he said.
Another possibility is to fight the freeze at its source, by putting pressure on Obama, he said. If tens of thousands of Americans take to the streets and tell Obama to leave Jerusalem alone, the president will be forced to do so, he stated.
“The American public... is sensitive to the subject of Jerusalem, more so than to any other part of American foreign policy. If the public's anger is aroused, he will be forced to change his policy,” Gabbai said. Proof of the Obama administration's need for public support can be seen in the administration's efforts to enlist support from Jewish organizations in the wake of tensions over Jerusalem, he added.