Earlier this week, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, the leading candidate to be the next defense minister, gave a briefing to a group of French journalists. He gave out maps of Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim and showed the journalists that the planned construction in the E1 area would not divide Judea and Samaria into separate parts and therefore would not impede the possible establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state. There are already transportation routes that connect Ramallah and Bethlehem and there is land east of Maaleh Adumim where Judea (the southern section of the West Bank) and Samaria (the northern section of the West Bank) meet.
So why shouldn't Israel build in E1? Because the world has come to see E1 as an area where Israeli construction would choke off the territorial contiguity of the Palestinian people. Unless this impression is changed, going ahead with construction plans in E1 would cause Israel major, and possibly irreversible, diplomatic damage.
This is not the case in Ramat Shlomo, an area that I know well. The growth of Ramat Shlomo is a natural thing, in terms of the Jewish hold over the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, for which the neighborhood serves a guard post, in a positive sense.
However, the announcement of the construction of 1,500 housing units in Ramat Shlomo was an invitation for world pressure. Israel would have had an easier time if it had used a salami method of announcing the construction of 100 housing units on 15 different occasions.
Construction in Ramat Shlomo is not an obstacle to negotiations on the future of Jerusalem. It is clear that Jerusalem will remain united. If an opportunity arises to make peace, there may be a need to recognize a special Palestinian and Muslim status in the Holy Basin. But construction in Ramat Shlomo has nothing to do with an arrangement on the holy sites in the Temple Mount area.
But by announcing a massive construction plan in Ramat Shlomo, the government has in fact hindered its ability to carry the plan out. The announcement was unnecessary and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to the world as if he was trying to avoid losing votes to Naftali Bennett's New National Religious Party in the upcoming Knesset election. Bennett's party can conduct its election campaign as it wishes. That is the essence of democracy. But Bennett should be aware of the national price being paid. The Netanyahu government will build as much as it can in Jerusalem. But its ability to do so lessens as political turmoil surrounding the issue increases.
Basically, by pressuring the government, the New National Religious Party has ensured no actual new construction, but rather has only extracted construction declarations that have drawn criticism from Israel's friends around the world. The question for the government is whether one more Knesset seat is worth the heavy price of competing in the race that has been instigated by the right-wing opposition.