How Can So Many Israelis Back the Construction Freeze?

Two recent surveys produced astonishing findings about the public's attitude to building in Jerusalem.

According to media reports, the crisis with the United States is just about over. The prime minister acted responsibly and displayed remarkable restraint, avoiding an escalation and going a long way to satisfy the Americans. But there is something that Benjamin Netanyahu and indeed all Israelis should be worried about: the grave damage to the national consensus on Jerusalem.

Two surveys published in recent days produced astonishing findings about the public's attitude on construction in Jerusalem, findings that should alarm every Jew. In a Haaretz-Dialog poll, 48 percent of the respondents said Israel should continue building in all parts of Jerusalem, even if the price is a rift with the United States, while 41 percent said Israel should stop building in East Jerusalem until the end of negotiations with the Palestinians. Almost identical findings came up in a Mina Tzemach poll, where 46 percent said building in East Jerusalem should be frozen and only 51 percent opposed such a move.

Who would have believed that we would reach a situation where more than 40 percent of the public supports a construction freeze in East Jerusalem and only half say building should continue? The significance of these surprising numbers is that the Jewish consensus on united Jerusalem has been cracked, if not shattered. It doesn't mean that half of Israel's Jews have given up on East Jerusalem or that they see Gilo and Ramot as settlements. It means that increasing numbers feel detached and alienated from the eastern part of the city and do not accept many things that have been going on there. This grave situation is the rotten fruit of the activities of extreme right-wing organizations in Jerusalem, which have the support of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Mayor Nir Barkat.

These two gentlemen are populist politicians acting irresponsibly and doing everything to please the extreme right; they are causing inestimable damage to the cause of Jerusalem. The forcible eviction of Arab families from the homes they have lived in for decades, and the case of Beit Yonatan, illegally inhabited by a gang of extremists who saw fit to praise and glorify the murderer Baruch Goldstein, are examples of actions that harm the Jewish people's justified demand for sovereignty over Jerusalem. They erode the national consensus on this matter.

The Israeli public knows the difference between historical Jerusalem and those Arab neighborhoods that have never been part of the city. Therefore, the entire Jewish people, and the U.S. government as well, fully supported the restoration of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City because this was justified. It embodies the revival of the Jewish people in their land, as well as their connection to the sites of their heritage and their right to possess them. Dispossessing Arabs of their homes and attempts to take over clearly Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are not accepted by the world, including most American Jews, and according to the poll results, not even by a large part of Israel's Jewish population.

Jerusalem is not Barkat's personal property - it's the most precious possession of the entire Jewish people. It is up to the prime minister to ensure that the government approves every measure and action with potential diplomatic repercussions in its capital.