Top U.S. Reform rabbi to Israel: Freeze East Jerusalem building
Rabbi Eric Yoffie: Building in Arab sections of Jerusalem in current political climate isn't prudent.
The leading Reform rabbi in the United States on Thursday urged Israel to cease construction in East Jerusalem, saying the diplomatic row between Israel and the United States has made this a difficult time for American Jewry.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the call for a construction freeze during remarks to rabbis and members of URJ's board of trustees.
"This has been a difficult and complicated time for us as American Jews," said Yoffie. "We have a number of mandates at the moment: We proclaim our love for Israel in unmistakable terms, and we work to prevent the current situation from spiraling out of control and causing a deep rift between Israel and the United States.
"Current tensions are not about a two-state solution, which is accepted by Israel," said Yoffie. "Nor are they simply about diplomatic courtesy. There is also a substantive question of great importance that needs to be addressed: Should Israel continue to build now in East Jerusalem? I believe that it should not."
Yoffie went on to say that compromise is needed to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and that Israel will likely hold on to some settlement blocs in a final-status agreement.
He also said that the Union for Reform Judaism, like most American Jewish organizations, supports a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. "This means that we believe housing units constructed in Jerusalem by Israel are not settlements and they are not illegal," Yoffie said. "But a great many things that are legal are not prudent or wise - and building in Arab sections of Jerusalem in the current political climate is one of those things."
Yoffie asserted that Israel should not renounce the claim to all of Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital, or Israel's right to build anywhere within Jerusalem's borders.
But he said a temporary moratorium on construction in East Jerusalem would strengthen Israel's relations with the U.S. and be greeted with enthusiasm by other allies angered by Israel's plan, such as Canada.
A freeze "would demonstrate a firm commitment on Israel's part to the American-sponsored peace negotiations; and it would, potentially, breathe life into those negotiations and turn the attention back to where it is most needed ? moving forward to a lasting, meaningful peace," said Yoffie. "Nothing should divert us from this goal."
Israel said it would be willing to carry out trust-building moves in the West Bank in order to facilitate peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday.
In a phone call between Netanyahu and Clinton, the premier reportedly conveyed a detailed list of gestures Jerusalem was willing to perform in order to restart negotiations with the Palestinians.
The Prime Minister's Office stated following the conversation between Netanyahu and Clinton that there was "a real effort by Israel to aid the U.S. administration in renewing negotiations though trust-building measures with the Palestinian Authority."
However, the Washington Post reported that Netanyahu is expected to tell the Obama administration that he cannot revoke the Ramat Shlomo expansion plan both for legal reasons and as a result of wide public support in continued building in Jerusalem.