JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israelis may purchase property in all parts of Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu said.
The Israeli prime minister’s comments Sunday to his Cabinet at its weekly meeting came after the U.S. State Department told Israel’s ambassador to the United States over the weekend that the Jewish state must halt a construction project in eastern Jerusalem.
"I would like to re-emphasize that the united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel," Netanyahu said. "Our sovereignty over it cannot be challenged. This means, inter alia, that residents of Jerusalem may purchase apartments in all parts of the city.
"(I)n recent years hundreds of apartments in Jewish neighborhoods and in the western part of the city have been purchased by or rented to Arab residents, and we did not interfere. This says that there is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the western part of the city and there is no ban on Jews buying or building apartments in the eastern part of the city.
"I can only describe to myself what would happen if someone would propose that Jews could not live in certain neighborhoods in New York, London, Paris or Rome. There would certainly be a major international outcry. Accordingly, we cannot agree to such a decree in Jerusalem."
The State Department summoned Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to tell him that Israel must put a halt to the construction of an apartment project in eastern Jerusalem, according to Israeli news reports.
American philanthropist Irving Moskowitz purchased the land, on which the Shepherd Hotel sits and located near an Israeli compound housing several government ministries, in 1985. He plans to build 20 apartments there.
"The acquisition of the land that includes the Shepherd Hotel was legal and received the necessary renovation and construction," according to a statement from the Municipality of Jerusalem.
"Not only were 20 apartments approved," the statement says later, "but a number of conditions that include the preservation of the historic structure were prescribed by the committee."