Security Cabinet Squabbles Over East Jerusalem Barrier

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A Palestinian man stands next to a newly erected temporary concrete wall that measures around 10 meters, in Jerusalem's Jabel Mukaber neighborhood, October 18, 2015.Credit: Reuters

The security cabinet convened on Sunday to discuss the battle against incitement and efforts to outlaw the Islamic Movement. But the issues on the agenda were sidelines when an argument broke out between the ministers over an entirely different matter – photos of the mobile concrete wall erected in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.  

As the meeting was taking places, first reports and images of the 10-meter barrier began appearing on television. After the prime minister and the ministers were briefed about the reports, the security cabinet ceased its discussion about Palestinian incitement and the Islamist Movement and began arguing about the movable concrete slabs.

According to a number of sources who were briefed about the meeting, ministers Yisrael Katz, Naftali Bennett and Ze'ev Elkin voiced severe criticism of the police and said the move would cause Israel's public diplomacy serious damage, creating the impression Israel is rescinding its sovereignty over Jerusalem's Palestinian neighborhoods, dividing the city de facto. Katz, Bennett and Elkin demanded to know why the cabinet was not informed of the move ahead of time.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan responded to the criticism, and claimed it was not the result of the police's decision, but a request from Jerusalem's municipality that had been authorized by the cabinet during a September meeting, some time before the current wave of violence began.

During the September meeting, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat requested a barrier be set up in a number of flashpoint sites in East Jerusalem from which stones and firebombs were being thrown. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized a pilot program in which a temporary psychical obstacle would be erected at one of the sites to test its efficiency.

Erdan said that it was a technical measure geared toward increasing security and not a political move. "The police do not act on their own accord and no one is dividing Jerusalem's neighborhoods or handing over sovereignty," Erdan said. Katz, Bennett and Elkin continued their assualt, and at some point Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon confronted them.

"There is no division of Jerusalem, this is all nonsense," Kahlon said. "If something can help increase the security of the police and citizens then that's what should be done. Only a Knesset vote will divide or not divide Jerusalem." Kahlon turned to Katz and said, "I want to remind you about the disengagement from Gaza [in 2005] – what decided was not barriers – but a vote in the Knesset."

After a few more minutes of arguments between the ministers, Netanyahu asked that aerial photographs of the areas in which the barriers were erected be brought it in to help the cabinet better understand the situation. After being further briefed on the issue, Netanyahu ordered an end to the barrier's placement and that alternative options be examined.