Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared last week that his government would move to strengthen the unification of Jerusalem through development within the municipal borders of the city.
But he hinted that such expansion could mean slower development of outlying communities east of the capital, including Ma’ale Adumim and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank.
His remarks came in the wake of the recent controversy over the expansion plans of Efrat, a Gush Etzion settlement. The government decided to halt Efrat’s plans to build at a designated site after Palestinians threatened that the move could halt the peace process.
Instead, the government worked out a compromise with the community to build on another site.
Speaking on Jan. 10 during a tour of the capital, Rabin said that Jerusalem must be given priority in housing and other public services. By speaking of development only within the municipal borders of the city, he in effect excluded the outlying areas.
“The other areas on the periphery are a different issue,” he said. For Rabin, who oversaw the capture of the eastern half of the city in 1967 as the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, the visit to the Old City was his first during his current term as prime minister.
He was accompanied by Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert and by Housing Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, who described plans to build 30,000 apartments in the city over the next five to six years.
Michal Cohen a spokeswoman for the Israel Lands Authority, recently said that the decision to build apartments in Jerusalem was made in an effort to ease housing shortages that have led Israelis to leave the city.
According to government figures, approximately 6,000 Israelis have left Jerusalem annually since 1992.
Jerusalem is currently home to some 405,000 Jews and about 160,000 Palestinians.
Hosting Rabin during his tour, Olmert welcomed the prime Minister’s pledge to develop the capital, but hoped that a similar effort would be made east of the city.
“We need a security belt in the future, east of Jerusalem, Olmert said. “We see Jerusalem’s natural development [as being] toward the east. I think you could do both.”
In related news, Palestine Liberation Chairman Yasser Arafat was in Cairo last week, when he met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss Israel’s settlement policy.
Accompanying Arafat in Cairo, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath reportedly said that Arafat had gotten Egypt’s full backing in opposing continued expansion of Israeli settlements.
Speaking after the Arafat-Mubarak meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa said that Israeli settlement plans had brought the ongoing Israeli- Palestinian peace initiative to a “crisis situation.”
Moussa described Israeli settlement expansion as a violation of international law.