Maaleh Zeitim, May 25 2011, Olivier Pitosi
Activists at Ma'aleh Zeitim in Jerusalem, May 25 2011. Photo by Olivier Pitosi
Text size

One day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Jerusalem will not be divided, the speaker of the Knesset and several other government ministers attended a dedication ceremony for the new Jewish settlement of Ma'aleh Zeitim, in East Jerusalem's Ras al-Amud neighborhood.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, and Information Minister Daniel Hershkovitz all participated in the ceremony – this despite the fact that the Jewish neighborhood has already been inhabited for several years.

A group of tens of left-wing activists gathered outside the site of the ceremony, shouting "Jews and Arabs against Ma'aleh Zeitim" and "There is no shame in the holy city."

Rivlin delivered a speech at the ceremony, where he made a warning based on the recent Mideast policy speech laid out by United States President Barack Obama.

"Until today, despite a difference of opinions, there were relations between Israel and the U.S. based on mutual interests, shared democratic values, and recognition of the right of the Jewish people in their country," Rivlin said.

"But this time, I hear another note from the U.S. president…. That Israel doesn’t need to be strict on the conditions that will protect her existence, that the U.S. will be responsible for [Israel's] security and existence. And what happens if one day there is a president that thinks that Israel's existence contradicts Americans' interests?"

Rivlin condemned those that seek to "cut up" Jerusalem, as bringing "disaster" onto the city and its residents.

The comments come shortly after a weekend where U.S. President Barack Obama called for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians based on borders from 1967, which Netanyahu calls "indefensible".

The ceremony at Ma'aleh Zeitim was sponsored by the neighborhood committee, Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim, MKs in the Knesset's Jerusalem caucus and Florida-based businessman Irving Moskowitz, who purchased the land for the settlement.

Work on the controversial neighborhood began in the late 1990s. Moskowitz purchased the building lots from two yeshivas that bought the land more than a century ago. The High Court of Justice rejected petitions by Palestinians who claimed ownership of the land.

Ma'aleh Zeitim is projected to house 110 families. An adjacent neighborhood, Ma'aleh David, still in the planning stages, would add an additional 90 homes to the area, making the combined area the largest Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.