Over the past several weeks two major Jerusalem housing construction projects received approval, drawing the ire of the international community. First came the announcement of a plan for an additional 1,000 units in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, followed by the more recent initial approval of 2,500 apartments in a new neighborhood south of Gilo known as Givat Hamatos.
Anyone who lives or has visited Jerusalem recently can see how rapidly the landscape is changing almost daily with apartment buildings popping up all over the place to meet the vast housing demand. However both the Gilo and the Givat Hamatos projects have been nearly unanimously condemned outside of Israel since they are to be built on barren land land reunited with Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and therefore in the view of countries near and far are obstacles to peace.
Leading the charge in denouncing the projects are the usual cast of characters including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who said in reference to Givat Hamatos that “settlement activity in east Jerusalem and the remainder of the West Bank is contrary to international law,” and that such activity “must cease.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, usually viewed as an Israeli ally, told Prime Minister Netanyahu directly that the Gilo approval “raised doubts over whether the Israeli government was interested in the resumption of serious (peace) negotiations.” In fact Merkel said the plan “lacked any comprehension,” questioning why Israel would build in Gilo “near Jerusalem,” refusing to even acknowledge that the neighborhood is within the boundaries of our capital city.
And closer to home, left-wing Israeli organizations along with Palestinian Authority officials were obviously quick to blast the projects. Never mind that the Givat Hamatos plan calls for the expansion of housing options for the Arabs of Beit Safafa, building in the "Eastern" (in the case of Gilo and Givat Hamatos it is southern, in the case of Ramat Shlomo which was also opposed- northern) parts of the city are simply unacceptable to them.
Official Israeli spokespersons defended the building projects. Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon held a briefing in Gilo and told reporters that Gilo is not a settlement but an “integral part of Jerusalem.” At that same press conference Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur said that “[Gilo] is not a settlement or a separate part of the city, it’s part of a thriving urban organism...”
In addition, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev issued a similar declaration saying , “Gilo is not a settlement... it is a Jerusalem neighborhood that is 10 minutes away from the center of the city.”
But none of these officials who are justifying the building projects by try to distinguish Jerusalem from the “settlements” seems to be listening to what Israel’s critics both here and abroad are saying.
As quoted above, Ban Ki-moon is not criticizing Israel for building in Jerusalem but for building anywhere over the “Green-line.” Similarly as EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherin told the EU Parliament in Strasbourg, France in regard to the projects "The expansion of settlements threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution.” She added "He (Netanyahu) should stop announcing them and, more importantly, stop building them.”
In other words, whether it’s the UN, EU, or even the US State Department, which also issued a statement against the construction, the world views Jerusalem - here, Gilo - the same way as it views Efrat, Beit-El, or the same way it views a neighborhood somewhere on a hilltop near Yitzhar.
This is not surprising because of the impressive public relations campaign, launched years ago by our “peace partners” the Palestinian Authority and the PLO before hand, in which words such as “occupation” and “settlements” became part of the accepted narrative in which Israel is cast as Goliath out to steal land held by the meek Palestinian David, both within Jerusalem and the rest of Judea and Samaria.
The point is, while we hear time and time again that places like Gilo, “Ma’ale Adumim, or Gush Etzion are part of the consensus and on everyone’s peace deal map slated to remain part of Israel, nothing is for certain. The same therefore holds true for Jerusalem’s Old City, also by definition a “settlement.”
It is worth noting that official Palestinian Authority media outlets refer to places such as Haifa and Jaffa as “settlements.”
Israel should once and for all stop negotiations with the current Arab leadership, since building homes for Jews in Gilo, Judea and Samaria, or really anywhere in the Land of Israel will always spark an uproar.