Netanyahu and Jerusalem
Netanyahu and Jerusalem Israel news photo: Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday switched from apologies to the Obama administration for building for Jews in Jerusalem and went on the offense. Buoyed by virtually unanimous Cabinet support, he told Likud Knesset Members at a party meeting, “Building in Jerusalem and in all other places will continue in the same way that has been accepted in the last 42 years.”

He added that the construction does not harm Arabs. Last week, the Prime Minister apologised to visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden over the timing of a government announcement that 1,600 new housing units will be built in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

Ramat Shlomo shares the same status as French Hill, Ramot and Gilo, totally Jewish areas that are considered to be politically “untouchable” by any agreement for a new Palestinian Authority state within Israel’s current borders. The neighborhood is not far from the largely Arab-populated area of Shuafat, but is surrounded on all other sides by the Jewish areas of Ramot, Ramat Eshkol and Golda Meir Blvd.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sudden change of pace came in response to a Likud caucus question by strongly nationalist MK Tzipi Hotovely concerning the 10-month building freeze on new homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria.

He stated that the freeze, which was a “goodwill” gesture to U.S. President Barack Obama to entice the PA to resume negotiations, is "binding” and will not be extended.

The current crisis with the United States, the worst since the 1970s, peaked after Biden arrived in Israel simultaneously with a White House announcement that the PA agreed to American-mediated talks with Israel and with the Israeli government statement on new Ramat Shlomo construction.

The Obama government has insisted it is not imposing terms on Israel but also has been paving the ground for Israel to stop building in the restored parts of Jerusalem until a final agreement is made with the PA. However, the Arab world has stood firm that there is no ground for negotiations and that all of its claims to the Old City, eastern, northern and southern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria must be met.

The current crisis has placed both Prime Minister Netanyahu and senior American officials in a bad light. Most media have roundly criticized the Prime Minister for embarrassing Biden, although the Israeli leader insisted he had nothing to do with the timing of the announcement of new homes in Ramat Shlomo (pictured).

Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been severely criticized for over-reacting and for what appears to many as gross interference in Israeli affairs.

Reporters covering the U.S. State Department also questioned its spokesman Philip Crowley for referring to Netanyahu without the title “Prime Minister.” Crowley replied, “That was my choice of words."

The same reporter then commented, “Why three days after what happened, and the Vice President’s own condemnation of that happened, was the need felt to deliver this quite harsh rebuke [by Clinton]?”

Crowley sidestepped the query and also tried to dodge reporters' doubts that the Arab world wants to continue with indirect talks.