Opinion

Netanyahu Will Divide Jerusalem

Netanyahu certainly recognizes the added diplomatic value of increasing the Jewish population in East Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods by some 50,000, if not more

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem November 25, 2018.
Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP

Six years ago a plan was approved to build some 2,600 residential units in Givat Hamatos, which overlooks the Jerusalem-Bethlehem highway. Despite a grave shortage of reasonably priced apartments, which causes young couples to leave Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu froze the project.

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A completed plan for some 2,000 units in Har Homa, 400 of them approved for immediate construction, is also stalled. About a year ago, a plan to build around 1,000 homes in Pisgat Ze’ev was approved. Netanyahu suspended it, too. According to a source whose job is advancing development in Jerusalem, additional plans are also in limbo. If the prime minister were to remove the diplomatic obstacles, he added, some 10,000 new units could be built. That, he said, would lower home prices, prevent urban flight, attract new residents to the capital and contribute significantly to preventing its division.

Netanyahu certainly recognizes the added diplomatic value of increasing the Jewish population in East Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods by some 50,000, if not more. That being the case, the continued building freeze raises pointed questions about his hidden motives. But despite the political power now in the hands of his partners in the coalition of just 61 MKs, none has threatened to leave over the freeze. Even Naftali Bennett, who on Jerusalem Day this year said “a government that doesn’t build in Jerusalem has no right to exist,” is suddenly silent.

In the past 50 years, there have been many — and expensive — efforts to buy land and homes in East Jerusalem, particularly in Old City. In theory, the government is responsible for redeeming land and homes for national ends, either directly or through its many branches. In fact, even right-wing governments have not done so. Nor have they funded the nonprofits that are doing the government’s job, sometimes at the risk of their activists’ lives. One such activist says the authorities have even thwarted their work, more than once.

For two months now, Issa Aqal has been tortured in the cellars of the Palestinian security services. Aqal, an Arab with a blue (Israeli) ID, committed a crime that in the Palestinian Authority is a capital offense: He sold properties to Jews. The state in whose behalf he acted (even if for monetary gain) abandoned this Arab man, an Arab who is helping to Judaize Jerusalem. So did the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. The Israeli media, which show great interest when Arabs (even “ticking bombs”) are tortured, barely address the issue. Even to them, a Palestinian who buys or sells property for or to Jews is a traitor.

Netanyahu, for his own reasons, insists that now is not the time for elections. Indeed, a ministerial promotion is no reason to shake up the country. But the protracted freeze on building in Jerusalem, with its great diplomatic and ideological consequences, is absolutely a reason to do so. The public will understand, and will reward the move at the ballot box.

The architect of the “Peres will divide Jerusalem” campaign — Netanyahu himself — cannot afford to be the subject of ads and posters with the slogan “Bibi will divide Jerusalem.” When it comes to building in Jerusalem, no one can accuse Habayit Hayehudi, or actors in Likud and in Yisrael Beiteinu who will join the ultimatum, of bringing down a right-wing government. A government whose leader freezes construction in Jerusalem for diplomatic reasons is not a right-wing government.