Netanyahu adamant on housing for Jews in Arab E. Jerusalem Prime minister says in interview: 'Nothing is going to stop me'

March 15, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Overriding the objections of the Palestinians and many of his foreign allies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is forging ahead with a controversial housing development in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.

Work will begin next week, possibly as soon as Monday.

"I am building Har Homa this week, and nothing is going to stop me," Netanyahu said in an interview published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv. "If they think they can frighten us, they are mistaken. I am determined about my view more than ever." Netanyahu's Cabinet reaffirmed its decisions on the project yesterday, along with plans to provide more housing opportunities in Arab neighborhoods.

The chief of military intelligence, Gen. Moshe Yahalon, warned the Cabinet that the construction would result in violence.

The Israeli government action followed Thursday's killing of seven Israeli schoolgirls. A Jordanian soldier stationed at a tourist spot on the Israel-Jordan border is accused in the slayings. The shootings capped a week of strained relations among Israel, its closest Arab ally, King Hussein of Jordan, and Israel's Palestinian peace partners.

In a harshly worded letter released this week, Hussein attacked Netanyahu for pursuing policies -- specifically the Har Homa housing project -- that he said would result in bloodshed. Palestinian leaders have issued similar warnings.

Palestinians are angry about the Har Homa project because they hope to have East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. They are also upset over Israel's decisions to cede a minimal amount of West Bank land in the next phase of redeployment as set out in the 1993 peace accords.

A meeting in Gaza

Today in Gaza, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat will meet with international emissaries to discuss the peace process.

"This isn't just another crisis. " Arafat said in an interview published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. "The government of Israel has halted the process. It is leading us by the nose. Its decisions, which it wants to impose on us, are truly a conspiracy against peace. And Israel is the one who is to bear all the responsibility for all the results."

The week's events -- especially the slayings of the Israeli schoolgirls -- appeared to solidify Netanyahu's resolve. He told Ma'ariv that he is prepared for any violence that might erupt over the housing development on a wooded hilltop in southeast Jerusalem that Palestinians know as Abu Ghneim.

The fear exists that actually starting the new Israeli settlement will provoke the same sort of violence that erupted last fall when Israel opened an access route to a tourist tunnel adjacent to Islamic sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.

But Netanyahu asserts that he is carrying the mandate of Israelis who elected him last year.

In a letter of response to King Hussein's complaint, Netanyahu discussed the decisions of his government in the context of the flawed peace process he inherited.

"I was chosen to lead Israel because of the bitter dissatisfaction of the Israeli people with the way the peace process was progressing," he wrote March 10 in a letter to King Hussein. "I inherited a process that was failing. The country was suffering its worst terrorist wave in its history, with bus bombs going off in the heart of Israeli cities and a devastating mini-war taking a heavy toll in Lebanon." He argued that he was actually reviving what had become a moribund peace process and undertaking actions "despite tremendous resistance from some in my own constituency. "

But he has to draw the line at Jerusalem, said Dr. Reuven Chazan, a political scientist at Hebrew University. Netanyahu has governed "according to a consensus in Israeli society," Chazan said. And, he added, "there is an overwhelming consensus to maintain a unified Jerusalem and to create facts on the ground that would make it impossible to change. Jerusalem is an issue that touches a nerve in Israeli society."

But Menachem Klein, a specialist in Palestinian politics at Bar-Illan University outside Tel Aviv, worries that Palestinian frustration over the future of Jerusalem will only heighten as Israel tightens its grips on the city.

Klein said he concurs with Israel's security establishment that the threat of violence is real.

Until now, he said, Arafat has been able to manage the conflict "very successfully without letting it become bloody."

International concern

The conference he has called in Gaza for today is Arafat's attempt to mobilize international support behind the Palestinians. The United Nations General Assembly also has opposed the housing project. The attendance of U.S. Consul General Edward G. Abington Jr. at the Gaza meeting reflects the concern already expressed by President Clinton that the Israeli decision to build at Har Homa is counterproductive.

The decision by the United States to send Abington came after it vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution protesting the Har Homa project.

In Washington yesterday, 20 U.S. senators and 67 House members urged President Clinton to reverse the decision to send Abington to the conference.

Calling the meeting one-sided, the members of Congress warned the president, "Participating in this meeting will only drive the parties apart."

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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