Netanyahu: Israel ‘rejects’ pressure not to build in Jerusalem

Israel “firmly rejects” pressure not to build in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said following days of unrest and growing international condemnation of planned forced expulsions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by illegal Jewish settlers.

Netanyahu’s comments came on Sunday as Israel’s justice ministry said it was delaying a key Monday hearing on the case of Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

“In all the circumstances and in light of the attorney general’s request, the regular hearing for tomorrow, May 10, 2021 [is] cancelled,” it said in a statement, adding it would schedule a new hearing within 30 days.

Tensions over the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood have stoked daily confrontations in recent days.

Washington said on Saturday it was “deeply concerned” and wanted “authorities to approach the residents … with compassion and respect”.

East Jerusalem is among territories that Palestinians seek for a future state. The US-sponsored statehood negotiations with Israel stalled in 2014. Israel deems of all Jerusalem its capital – a status not recognised abroad.

“We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late,” Netanyahu said during a televised address before national commemorations of the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

“I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do,” Netanyahu said.

Palestinian medics said at least 90 people were injured on Saturday after the Israeli police cracked down on Palestinian protesters outside the occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City.

The crackdown occurred as an estimated 90,000 Muslim worshippers prayed at the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque on Islam’s holy night of Laylat al-Qadr – or the Night of Destiny – the most sacred of prayers during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The violence came after Israeli forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque and injured more than 200 Palestinians on Friday night. Israeli forces said 17 of their officers were wounded over the past two days.

Netanyahu said Israel allows freedom of worship but “we will not allow any extremist element to disturb the peace in Jerusalem … We will not allow violent unrest.”

Akiva Eldar, an Israeli journalist and author, told Al Jazeera: “We don’t have a light at the end of the tunnel because there is no tunnel because there is no peace process.”

“East Jerusalem is occupied, it’s not Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, it hasn’t been recognised by the international community so we are sitting on a volcano.”

Separately, the Israeli police on Sunday gave the go-ahead for the holding of the annual Jerusalem Day parade, a flag-waving display of Israeli claims to all of the city.

About 30,000 Jewish settlers are expected to participate in a march towards Damascus Gate in the Old City on Monday.

Amos Gilad, a former senior military official, told Army Radio the parade should be cancelled or rerouted away from the Old City’s Damascus Gate, saying “the powder keg is burning and can explode at any time”.

Monday’s parade is typically attended by hardline nationalist Israelis and is widely perceived as provocative.

Pope Francis called for an end to violence in Jerusalem, saying he was following events there with concern and inviting parties to seek solutions in order to respect the multicultural identity of the Holy City.

“Violence breeds violence, stop the clashes,” the pope told pilgrims who gathered in St Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday.