Social protest, which puts housing problems at the top of the public agenda, has begun picking up hitchhikers in the form of politicians who want to make easy and dangerous profits on the back of the middle class.
So at the end of last week, Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced a series of construction projects beyond the 1967 lines. The Shas leader, who purports to promote affordable housing, announced the construction of 1,600 housing units for the ultra-Orthodox in north Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, and an additional 624 units in Pisgat Ze'ev, northeast of the capital. The announcement came a week after the government approved the preparation of land for an additional 930 housing units in Har Homa 3, south of Jerusalem. All these units are over the Green Line.
It's hard to imagine that even Yishai believes his own claim that construction decisions in East Jerusalem are not policy statements. As a member of the security cabinet, Yishai understands full well the significance of a unilateral decision to build in the West Bank. This is so given that the fate of the territories hangs on negotiations, while Israel is fighting to thwart a unilateral declaration at the United Nations of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The Shas leader certainly knew that no country would take seriously his claim that the approval of the new construction is meant to ease Israel's housing problems. Although the housing and public-service shortages among East Jerusalem Palestinians are many times greater than those of their Jewish neighbors, all the new construction is intended for Jews only.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot accuse Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of diplomatic intransigence while Netanyahu creates facts on the ground that empty the peace process of all meaning. The protests of the United States and European Union are reminders that construction for Jews in East Jerusalem, especially in its neighborhoods bordering the West Bank, is not an "internal matter" of construction and housing. East Jerusalem's fate is too weighty and sensitive an issue for the prime minister to entrust to hitchhikers.
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