Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat expressed support on Monday for the government's plan to build 3,000 additional housing units in the E1 section between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim. The decision came as a response to the recent upgrade of Palestinian status at the U.N. to nonmember observer state.
Speaking in Herzliya at a conference on the subject of affordable housing, Barkat told the audience: "We need to connect the E1 area to Jerusalem without any reservations at all, even with the world pressuring us not to do so. I certainly back the prime minister's position on this. I don't know of any city in the world whose regulator is the U.S. president."
Barkat said he was surprised by the European reaction to the government's announcement.
"When the world talks about a freeze in Jerusalem, I ask, a freeze on what? On the billions we invest in east Jerusalem? Should we stop construction for Arabs, Christians or Jews? Or does someone mean that when an entrepreneur approaches me, I should, heaven forbid, ask him what religion he subscribes to so he can receive a permit to build in Jerusalem? That would be horrendous and it negates even U.S. law," he said.
"I am opposed to construction in the western part of the city in accordance with the Safdie plan [a joint plan by the Israel Land Authority and the Jerusalem municipality for expanding the western section of the city] and prefer to focus first on the internal areas in the city. My second preference is to connect Jerusalem with Maaleh Adumim, including the E1 area, for both housing and business purposes."
Meanwhile, industrial leaders expressed indifference on Monday to a British government threat to sever business ties with Israel's export industry in light of the government's decision to construct housing units in the E1 section.
"The British cannot impose sanctions on Israel's exports to Britain, even if they wanted to, because Israel's agreements in that area are with the EU, of which Britain is a member," a senior source in the export industry said. "If Britain wants to cancel its trade agreements with Israel it must convene a meeting in Brussels and obtain the backing of the entire EU against us. If that happened, Israel's economy would be severely damaged, but we are far from that point and the issue is not even on the agenda at the moment."
However, the official warned the government not to dismiss the threat entirely. "Israel depends on its external trade. Seventy percent of Israel's products are imported or exported, which amounts to around $90 billion in exports and $70-80 billion in imports annually," he said.