Rightist groups reacted angrily Sunday to the announcement by US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell that Israel had agreed to freeze construction in east Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, as proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians begin. Among those angered were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition partners, some of whom expressed veiled threats.
"If Netanyahu doesn't build in Jerusalem, he shouldn't count on the current coalition," said Habayit Hayehudi Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev. "Netanyahu promised unequivocally not to freeze construction in Jerusalem. He mustn't make do with declarations – he must show this by taking practical steps."
The Jewish Leadership faction of Likud also denounced the prime minister. After recent tension between Netanyahu and faction leader Moshe Feiglin, sources close to Feiglin said, "It is now clear that Netanyahu lied to his voters and to the people of Israel. All his commitments before the Likud elections to continue building in Jerusalem were just a fraud for the sake of the vote. He is indeed dividing Jerusalem."
Further criticism came from the National Union party. Faction Chairman MK Yaakov Katz called on ministers Moshe Ya'alon, Ze'ev Begin, Gilad Erdan, Yisrael Katz and Yuli Edelstein, and MKs Danny Danon, Tzipi Hotovely, Yariv Levin, Miri Regev and Zeev Elkin, all from Likud, to "stop sticking their heads in the sand, and replace Netanyahu immediately."
Katz added, "Whoever freezes Jerusalem, capital of Israel, most of whose Jewish residents live in areas liberated in the Six-Day War, leads to the city's ruin and is not worthy of being prime minister of Israel."
Despite Mitchell's announcement and the denouncements heard from the right, sources close to the prime minister continued to deny that Netanyahu had made any commitment regarding Jerusalem.
"The prime minister announced during (US Vice President Joe) Biden's visit in March 2010 that in practice the planning processes in Ramat Shlomo would continue for at least a year and construction would start in a few years," the sources said, adding that details of the situation have been transferred to the US administration too.
"The prime minister has always said that construction and planning in Jerusalem would continue as normal, exactly as it has done throughout the last 43 years, and no Israeli commitment has been given on this issue," they said.
Attila Somfalvi also contributed to this report