Although Israel has been insisting for quite a while that there is no crisis in its relations with the United States, state officials were surprised Tuesday by the harsh American response to the approval of 900 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
A source in Benjamin Netanyahu's office clarified Tuesday evening that such approvals "are not handled by the prime minister."
Netanyahu's associates attempted to minimize the implications of the American and British criticism following the plan to expand the neighborhood, which is located beyond the Green Line, hinting that the Americans must clarify in public why they oppose the construction.
"The Americans know very well that the Israeli agreement to freeze the construction does not include Jerusalem," one of the sources said.
The aides chose to address the American response only, ignoring the even harsher criticism voiced by Britain. "The Americans are well aware of the prime minister's stand on the matter, and therefore it would be a mistake to refer to the Americans' statements as a crisis. There are things that are not seen by everyone," one of the sources said, expressing his confidence that the tension would be over within a week.
Construction in Gilo (Archive photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that the approval issued by the regional construction and planning committee was a routine procedure. "Building permits in Jerusalem's municipal borders, as in Israel's other cities like Tel Aviv and Jaffa, do not reach the prime minister's table."
The statement added that "the Gilo neighborhood is an integral part of Jerusalem, just like Ramot Eshkol, Rehavia, the French Hill, and Pisgat Ze'ev. There is a broad national agreement on this matter. The construction in Gilo has been going on for decades, and there is nothing new in the current planning and construction procedures."
The state officials hinted that the remarks made by Washington were simply a show. "The Americans want the entire issue of the territories to be clarified in the permanent agreement, and don't want the sides – mainly Israel – to create facts on the ground. However, Israel's stand on the matter is unequivocal – Jerusalem will not be part of any discussion on reducing construction," one of the sources said.
Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen said earlier that "the United States is acting like a bull in a china shop. A unilateral stance prevents any chance for dialogue. The Americans should learn from the past."
Following this remark, Netanyahu instructed Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser to make it clear to all the ministers and their deputies that they must make no further statements on the American criticism.