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The White House criticised Israeli settlement expansion – and Netanyahu’s response is extraordinary

On Wednesday, NGO Peace Now announced that Israeli authorities had advanced plans for some 2,600 new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem, close to Bethlehem. The news came as radical settlers moved into 25 homes in the Silwan neighbourhood of the city.

Responding to the move, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki described the developments as sending a “troubling message” that would “poison the atmosphere” and “call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement”.

Israeli PM Netanyahu, however, was not in the mood for criticism, and responded as follows.

Arabs in Jerusalem are free to purchase apartments in the western [part of the] city and no one is arguing against it. I have no intention of telling Jews they can’t buy apartments in East Jerusalem. This is private property and an individual right. There cannot be discrimination – not against Jews and not against Arabs. This goes against values that the United States also believes in.

So let’s break that down.

  1. “Arabs in Jerusalem are free to purchase apartments” in West Jerusalem.

    Wrong. As Haaretz described in 2009, after Netanyahu had made similar claims, “according to Israel Lands Administration rules, residents of East Jerusalem cannot take ownership of the vast majority of Jerusalem homes.” Why?

    Under Israeli law, to qualify to purchase property on “state land” the purchaser must either be a citizen of Israel (Palestinian Jerusalemites are legal residents if the city, not citizens of Israel) or legally entitled to citizenship under the law of return (i.e. Jewish). This means an Israeli or a Jew from anywhere in the world can purchase such property in West Jerusalem, but not a Palestinian resident of the city.

  2. “I have no intention of telling Jews they can’t buy apartments in East Jerusalem.”

    The issue that the U.S. – and indeed, almost every other country in the world – has with these housing plans is that Israel is building in and expanding illegal settlements located in occupied territories (and in the case of East Jerusalem, in illegally annexed territory). It is not about ‘telling Jews’ what they can or can’t buy. It is possible Netanyahu is being deliberately disingenuous –but it is also true that he, like the rest of Israel’s political leadership – simply does not recognise international law and norms.

  3. “There cannot be discrimination – not against Jews and not against Arabs.”

    For Netanyahu to make it an issue of discrimination really takes the biscuit. Israel systematically discriminates against Palestinians, both in the Occupied Territories and inside the pre-1967 lines, through numerous policies and laws documented by Palestinian groups, UN agencies, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, as well as Israeli NGOs (among others). In Jerusalem specifically, Palestinian residents in the Occupied East suffer from a host of discriminatory practices related to land, housing, municipal services, and political repression.

    Netanyahu was on a roll however, and added the following. “Every person is entitled to private property”, he said. “No one stole those houses or confiscated the property.” This from the Prime Minister of a state literally built on demolished, stolen, and confiscated homes and lands – whose self-declared capital city expropriated Palestinian land for settlements, and where Jews live in the ethnically cleansed neighbourhoods of Palestinians who are forbidden from returning.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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