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Netanyahu defends controversial Jerusalem building plans

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night defended plans to build in the Givat HaMatos neighbourhood in South Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line.

Netanyahu spoke after the US State Department harshly criticised the plans. Spokesperson Jen Psaki said the construction would “draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but also with … Arab governments.”

Responding to the criticism, Netanyahu told reporters at a press briefing in New York, “I don’t understand that criticism and I can’t accept that position.”

The construction plan in Givat HaMatos was not new, and was approved and widely reported in December 2012. It includes 800 housing units for the Arab neighbourhood of Beit Zafafa, which reportedly amounts to half of the actual planned construction. The plan was granted municipal approval – a technical step – last week.

The construction plan was publicised by the anti-settlement group Peace Now a few hours before the meeting between US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu. Netanyahu criticised Peace Now’s timing in publicising the decision, accusing the group of behaving with “a lack of national responsibility” while an aide claimed it was an attempt to “sabotage” the meeting.

Netanyahu also defended a recent move of Jewish residents into 25 empty flats in Silwan, a predominantly-Arab Jerusalem neighbourhood near the walls of the Old City and beyond the Green Line. Netanyahu stated that the flats were legally sold by their owners. Haaretz reported that he said, “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.”