JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister on Tuesday rejected international criticism of plans to build thousands more Jewish homes in east Jerusalem, insisting that construction will move forward.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the tough response as European diplomats were discussing plans to condemn Israel in the U.N. Security Council. A U.N. resolution would be the latest in a wave of angry international reactions to Israeli plans to build in areas the Palestinians claim for a future state.
"Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the state of Israel, and we will continue to build there," Netanyahu said during a visit to the northern Israeli city of Acre. He said Israelis overwhelmingly believed in "united Jerusalem," referring to Jewish west Jerusalem and east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured from Jordan and annexed by Israel but claimed by the Palestinians.
A poll by the Dahaf agency and published Tuesday in the Haaretz daily said that 67 percent of center-left voters do not favor dividing Jerusalem — meaning handing over east Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Center-left describes about half of the Israeli public, who otherwise would support handing over most of the West Bank for a Palestinian state. Much of the other half opposes giving up territory at all. Dahaf did not provide details of polling methods or a margin of error.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said a Jerusalem planning committee rejected proposals for additional Jewish houses to be built in east Jerusalem neighborhoods while approving 700 homes for Arab residents in that part of the city in a meeting late Tuesday.
The fate of the eastern sector of Jerusalem, with its holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is an emotional issue and lies at the heart of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Jerusalem's Old City is home to one of the world's most sensitive religious places, holy to both Jews and Muslims.
About 250,000 Palestinians and 200,000 Jews live in east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu announced plans to build thousands of homes in east Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo section and the West Bank in response to last month's decision by the United Nations to upgrade the Palestinians' status, endorsing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war. Israel accused the Palestinians of trying to bypass negotiations.
Germany and three other European members of the U.N. Security Council prepared a statement condemning Israel's latest settlement plans in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, a European diplomatic official said Tuesday.
The so-called E4 grouping — Britain, France, Germany and Portugal — is concerned that such settlements could threaten the possible two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, the official said. Details of the European statement are being finalized in New York, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity because the work was not yet completed.