Haaretz (Editorial)
March 31, 2009 - 12:00am

On the eve of the new government's swearing-in, right-wing elements in the new coalition and among the settlers are preparing to heighten Israeli control in East Jerusalem. In the coalition negotiations, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to promise to carry out the large (E1) plan to create Jewish urban contiguity between Ma'aleh Adumim and the capital. The plan, which calls for building 3,500 residential units, was suspended a number of years ago due to pressure from the American administration, which feared it would be an obstacle to creating a territorially contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Settlers' associations that have gained purchase in the Holy Basin near the Old City are increasing their pressure on the political system. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who was supported by these groups in his election campaign, was under pressure from them to demolish dozens of homes in the village of Silwan to reduce the Palestinian population in the area. Were it not for the intelligent decision by the municipality's legal adviser, Yossi Havilio, to freeze a plan to build 230 residential units in the Kidmat Zion neighborhood, in the heart of Abu Dis, we would soon be witness to Har Homa, the sequel. It can be assumed that the Ateret Cohanim activists who were behind the establishment of the Jewish neighborhood in Abu Dis will lobby their loyalists in the government and the municipality to revive the project.

Netanyahu's declaration that his government will renew the negotiations with the Palestinians is at odds with unilateral measures in Jerusalem, whose status is one of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian agenda. Just as Israel is obligated to freezing building in the West Bank settlements as long as there is no agreement on the permanent borders, so too must it avoid creating new facts on the ground in and around East Jerusalem.

It can be hoped that Netanyahu, who says that he has "changed," learned his lesson from his bull in a china shop behavior in Jerusalem during his first premiership. Opening the Western Wall Tunnel and building the Har Homa neighborhood confirmed the fears of the Palestinians and of the Arab states with regard to the right-wing government.

Barack Obama's administration asked Israel not to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and let Netanyahu know that the United States is monitoring Israel's moves in the city and expects it to avoid controversial ones. Netanyahu must listen to this message.


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