"This is our answer to the international community's demand that Israel halt construction in the West Bank," Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) said Monday during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new residential neighborhood in E1, a sprawl of land connecting Jerusalem to Maaleh Adumim.
The US is opposed to any construction in the area, claiming that it hinders peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The international community and the Palestinian Authority are closely monitoring developments in E1, as the PA claims Israel's real intention behind the plan is to expropriate Palestinian land, annex Jerusalem and divide the West Bank into Samaria and Judea.
"This symbolic cornerstone laying will eventually become a reality," he said, "I call on the public to keep building and believing."
Among the hundreds of people who attended the ceremony for the "Mevaseret Adumim" neighborhood were Ministers Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) and Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beitenu), as well as Knesset Members Danny Danon (Likud), Zeev Elkin (Likud) and Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi).
Also in attendance were Maaleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel and heads of the Yesha Council.
Maaleh Adumim is currently home to 37,000 people, while some 3,000 housing units are expected to be built in the new neighborhood.
"The State of Israel cannot find itself in an inferior position again amid the disgraceful and unjust calls to freeze settlement construction," Porush continued to say. "After Israel made all those foolish concessions on the heels of the Oslo Accords, we mustn't make any more unilateral sacrifices and continue to be the world's sucker amid Hamas' terror.
"It cannot be that the US will pressure Israel in order to improve its relations with the Arabs. This will jeopardize our security," he said.
A group of Peace Now activists arrived at the E1 sector while the ceremony was being held.
Peace Now activists protest against new neighborhood (Photo: Dudi Vaaknin)
The demonstrators carried signs reading "Bibi and Barak, this is not a game," and "bi-national state under construction." Police forces kept the demonstrators away from the site.
Zviki Bar-Hai, head of the South Mount. Hebron Regional Council criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying, "It is unprecedented for a prime minister to agree to a settlement freeze. The settlement enterprise is a living thing, and, God willing, we will overcome the obstacles and continue to build."
Prior to the ceremony Bar-Hai told Ynet, "This is the first time in Israeli history that a prime minister agrees to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu agreed to what (Yitzhak) Rabin and Shimon Peres refused to agree to."
Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan said most of the West Bank construction approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak had already been authorized by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet.
"The only thing Likud has done is bring upon us the coming settlement freeze," he said.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also spoke out against the government's planned settlement freeze, saying "anyone who thinks that Jerusalem will rise from the ashes of Hebron has learned nothing."
Rivlin was speaking at a memorial service marking the 80th anniversary of the 1929 Palestine riots.
Addressing the US' pressure on the settlement freeze, Rivlin added that, "Our friends in the international arena should know that not all is fair in diplomacy."
Also on Monday, the Labor Party backed Barak's decision to approve the construction of hundreds of housing units in the West Bank, saying it was "within the framework of the Zionist consensus."
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report