A construction program, funded by a Jewish American businessman, is the source of new difficulties between the United States and the Jewish state.

On Sunday, Jerusalem found itself at the center of a strange controversy. The U.S. is challenging Israel, regarding the upcoming construction of a building in the Arab part of Jerusalem, funded by one of their own nationals, Irwin Moskowitz. The businessman, who made his fortune in gambling in Miami, for years has supported a host of organizations and Israeli ultra-nationalist groups, whose goal is the settlement of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, where more 200,000 Palestinians live.

The situation is escalating. Last week, Michael Oren, Iraeli ambassador, was summoned to the State Department in Washington, where he had to explain the recent green light given to the construction of a score of housing units and parking lots in Sheikh Jarrah, the upscale neighborhood of East Jerusalem, on the site of a hotel [historic Shepherd's Hotel], acquired by Irwin Moskowitz 24 years ago. By thus expressing their displeasure, Americans have made it understood that this type of initiative is not appreciated, at a time when Barack Obama is calling for a freeze on Israeli settlement of territories conquered by Israel during the war of June 1967. At this point, the dispute has focused on the West Bank. Barack Obama’s administration seems determined to extend it to East Jerusalem.

Palestinian protests

The international community has, in fact, never acknowledged Israel's annexation of this part of the city, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state. Its isolation has not preventing a dozen new neighborhoods from springing up, where more than 200,000 Israelis live. Netanyahu hoped Americans would close their eyes. He was caught by surprise, which led him to raise the rhetoric, “Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is undisputed, and Jews have the right to live anywhere in the city," he declared, adding: "I cannot imagine what would happen if the Jews were forbidden to settle in parts of New York, London, Paris or Rome."

Most of the centrist opposition supports his position. Only a few isolated voices on the left went against the flow, like Labor member, Ofir Pines, who said "Moskowitz has been trying for years to stir things up in Jerusalem."

Palestinians have an opportunity to denounce the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. "It is time”, stresses Saeb Erakat, negotiator for President Mahmoud Abbas, “for the Israeli Prime Minister to understand that there is a new U.S. administration in Washington, and that no peace is possible if the eastern part of Jerusalem does not become the capital of our nation. "