Russia, France join call to freeze east Jerusalem construction
Moscow says plans to build 20 apartments in Sheikh Jarrah should be 'stopped immediately' in line with Roadmap peace plan, while France summons Israeli ambassador to demand halt to 'settlement construction' in eastern part of capital; Deputy FM Ayalon in response: Our right to develop Jerusalem irrefutable
Russia, France and the European Union on Tuesday called on Israel halt all construction in east Jerusalem, saying it obstructed the Mideast peace process.
"The settlement should be stopped immediately in line with the Roadmap," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Tuesday, referring to an international peace plan endorsed by the Israelis and Palestinians in 2003.
The project to build 20 apartments is on a site in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which formerly housed the Shepherd Hotel, and in 1985 was bought by American millionaire Irving Moskowitz. It received a building permit from city hall three months ago.
The plan has also been criticized by the US, and Israel's ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, was summoned to the State Department earlier this month when he was told the project should be halted.
France also summoned the Israeli ambassador in Paris to demand a halt to the Jewish "settlement building" in east Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday.
Sweden, the current holder of the European Union's rotating presidency, urged Israel "to refrain from provocative actions in east Jerusalem, including home demolitions and evictions, as stated also by the Quartet 26 June 2009.
"Such actions are illegal under international law," it added.
Shepherd Hotel in east Jerusalem (Photo: Reuters)
The Middle East quartet - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US - called on the Jewish state to halt West Bank settlements at a meeting in the Italian city of Trieste last month.
The Swedish government, which took over the rotating presidency of the 27-nation bloc July 1, added that the EU was concerned at the latest in a series of eviction orders issued to families in East Jerusalem.
"We have raised our concerns with the Israeli government and call on Israel to suspend these eviction notices immediately..." it said.
A senior member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party also urged Israel not to build more "settlements," warning it risked political suicide if it continued to do so.
In unusually strong comments for a German politician, Ruprecht Polenz, the head of parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, was quoted as saying Tuesday that Israel's aim of having secure borders would only be possible with a two-state solution.
If Israel did not stop building settlements it ran the risk "of gradually committing suicide as a democratic state", Polenz told the Rheinische Post daily.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in response that Israel would "continue to operate in accordance with its vital national interests.
"Our right to rule and develop Jerusalem is irrefutable," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Eli Yishai (Shas) said, "The government of Israel is not the daughter company of any other regime.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, "Our sovereignty in Jerusalem is indisputable. We can't agree to such a demand in east Jerusalem."
"I wish to make this clear – the united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people in the State of Israel," he added.
"The government has a sovereign right to build according to its Jewish conscience despite all the pressures," he said.
Also on Sunday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials expressed their satisfaction with the US' demand that Israel halt construction in east Jerusalem.
Hatem Abdel-Qader, who until recently served as the PA's minister for Jerusalem affairs, called the Obama administration's position "encouraging."
"This stance must be translated into actual pressure on the ground, because for now no change can be seen in Israel's conduct" said Qader, currently an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its "eternal, undivided" capital and doesn't consider construction in east Jerusalem to be settlement activity.
The Palestinians want to make the east of the city - home to some 200,000 Jewish Israelis and 268,000 Palestinians--the capital of their future state.
Reuters contributed to the report