Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday sharply criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to permit construction in East Jerusalem's Givat Hamatos area, charging such a project would help divide up the city.
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The plan allows for the Palestinians to build some 600 housing units in a hilltop bordering on Gilo and Beit Safafa.The plan came side by side with an announcement that another 560 housing units would be built in the Maaleh Adumim settlement and 240 in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot, Gilo and Har Homa.
Addressing the settlers' YESHA council, Bennett alleged that the envisaged housing in Givat Hamatos, exclusive of any Jewish population, would "create Palestinian contiguity from Bethlehem to Malha, and divide up Jerusalem."
A senior official said on Sunday that the construction permits for Maaleh Adumim and Jewish parts of Jerusalem were intended to "sweeten the pill in light of the fact that Netanyahu isn't advancing any Jewish construction in Givat Hamatos, due to international pressure against it."
Any Israeli construction in Givat Hamatos is seen as sensitive politically because it could isolate the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa, and make it very difficult to divide the city for a prospective peace settlement.
Bennett called Givat Hamatos "a strategic point for Jerusalem's future. Givat Hamatos will decide the [territorial] integrity of Jerusalem."
"The world has a goal of establishing Palestinian contiguity from Bethlehem, through Beit Jallah to Givat Hamatos, Beit Safafa through to the Malha Mall," Bennett said.
"What we want, though, is exactly the opposite: We want to establish contiguity from Talpiot to Gilo in order to keep Jerusalem united."
Bennett demanded that Netanyahu permit more Jewish construction in the city to prevent any partitioning of Jerusalem. "I'm sure that's what the prime minister will approve and that he will not help establish a Palestinian bridgehead in the heart of Jerusalem."