Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yossi Verter/ Pity the prime minister - Bibi freezes construction and he gets clobbered

(Yossi Verter-Haaretz).On Monday evening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat contentedly in his office at the Knesset. A few minutes earlier, he had decided to defer the vote on the biometric database bill. A few hours earlier, he had decided to defer the issue of splitting the attorney general's post as well. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Labor Party were staying in the government; Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman was not resigning for the nonce.

And then Yedioth Ahronoth journalist Shimon Schiffer called, seeking the reaction of the Prime Minister's Bureau to the Americans' statement of opposition to some building project in East Jerusalem.

What's this about, Netanyahu asked his people. No one knew. Netanyahu asked them to call in Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose purview includes Jerusalem. Yishai ran over from his office. That's when they figured it out: It was about the northwestern part of the Gilo neighborhood. Netanyahu called several of the relevant players. He was told that this was strictly a technical matter, that on the following day, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Commission would be approving the construction of 900 new housing units in the neighborhood.

He knew he was about to get slapped, but it is doubtful he imagined the barrage of condemnation: from U.S. President Barack Obama, who said the construction in Gilo did not contribute to Israel's security, to the secretary general of the United Nations, who called Gilo "a settlement" before the European Union, which strongly condemned everything happening in East Jerusalem, including the demolition of an illegal structure on Wednesday.

"I really pity Netanyahu," said one of his ministers. "There hasn't been another prime minister like him - he has entirely frozen building in the settlements. Ever since this government was established in April, not a single tender has been issued or plan approved, not even in East Jerusalem. The fact of the matter is that building has been frozen, under a right-wing government, with [Minister without Portfolio] Benny Begin, [Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe] Bogey Ya'alon, [Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor] Lieberman, [National Infrastructure Minister] Uzi Landau and Eli Yishai - but Bibi is getting clobbered, relentlessly.

"Under [former prime ministers] Rabin, Barak, Sharon and Olmert, there was a lot more building, and the Americans accepted them warmly," the minister said. "Bibi freezes construction and he gets clobbered. The authorization given this week in Jerusalem is an entirely formal thing. It will be a long time before they build in Gilo. The Americans know this - it's been explained to them, but they're going their own way. If it were dependent on Netanyahu, that commission wouldn't have convened. I have no doubt that in his heart he really, really didn't want this, but in retrospect, what could he have said apart from what he said, that Gilo is a integral part of Jerusalem and is part of the Israeli consensus?"