The prime minister gave Jerusalem an odd gift on its holiday: A construction freeze. On the 46th anniversary of the city's liberation by a Labor government, a Likud government is freezing it. Levi Eshkol liberated, Benjamin Netanyahu is freezing. He hardly built any homes in Jerusalem during his previous term, and now he is not building any at all. The new housing minister revealed this week that he is not being authorized to add even one apartment to the capital. The prime minister summoned him a few days ago and handed him a freezing order for all construction beyond the Green Line.
To his credit, Netanyahu did not attend the Jerusalem Day ceremonies this year, so we were spared the traditional dissonance between his tough talk and lack of action. Praising a united Jerusalem while dividing it is extremely hypocritical. Netanyahu is forbidding Jews from building in Pisgat Ze'ev but does nothing to prevent Arabs from building in Shufat, Beit Hanina and the Temple Mount.
Israel's capital can expand only to the east or the north, as the City has run out of land reserves in its western part long ago. It is no coincidence that the most talked about building project in Jerusalem over the past decade has been the Holyland apartment complex. Despite its immense size, the project did not solve the housing shortage in the city or thwart the threats of withdrawal it faces.
When Netanyahu froze Jerusalem during his last term, on the occasion of Biden's visit, it caused an uproar in the Right. This week, even the most hardline Likud members did not say a word. News of the construction freeze was received with shrugs or lip biting. The former Likud rebels have become deputy ministers, and the Likudniks have yet to realize that Netanyahu version 2013 is cruising toward the 1967 lines.
Today, Netanyahu is closer to Zahava Gal-On than to his old self. His diplomatic rhetoric is Tzipi Livni's rhetoric. On Independence Day he delivered a leftist speech to foreign diplomats in which he lauded the tenets of the 1947 Partition Plan (he said something along the lines of 'we said yes to it then, and we say yes to it now').
People still suspect, mistakenly, that he is not serious when he makes such statements, but he means what he says. If his party continues to devote itself to denial rather than protest, he may implement his plans as well.