JERUSALEM (JTA) — Ehud Barak called on Israeli government ministers and Palestinian officials to dial back the rhetoric on building in eastern Jerusalem.
In a statement released Thursday "(i)n response to expressions published this morning from ministers according to which Israel will continue to build in Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem despite the request from the United States not to do so at this stage," Israel’s defense minister and leader of the left-wing Labor Party asked the leaders to "act responsibly and avoid harsh or provocative statements on Jerusalem."
Barak’s call follows statements by Israeli ministers such as Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas Party, who was quoted in a Shas publication as saying that "We will build everywhere in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of our homeland, and this is my clarification to our allies and friends the Americans." He reiterated his statements from the article on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in Tokyo during an official visit to Japan that "normal life" would continue in Jerusalem.
"There is no agreement about freezing building in east Jerusalem and normal life in Jerusalem will continue as in every other city in Israel," he told reporters.
During the official state ceremony Wednesday in honor of Jerusalem Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "We will continue to build and be built in Jerusalem. We will continue to develop, plan and create in Jerusalem. We cannot develop in a divided city."
"These comments harm Israel’s interests, both with regard to the United States and to the international community," Barak said in Thursday’s statement. "These remarks make Israel look like it refuses to make peace and erode Israel’s international reputation."
The Palestinians have claimed eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. They have threatened to suspend newly started indirect peace talks if Israel permits new Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem.
The Orthodox Union denounced Barak’s statement, saying in a statement released by Nathan Diament, its director of public policy, that "In a time in which Israel’s enemies deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and international leaders regularly call for the re-division of the holy city, we cannot abide and must denounce the suggestion that leaders of Israel do anything other than clearly assert the deep historic and spiritual connection of the Jews to Jerusalem."