Maariv’s ace reporter Ben Kaspit reports in an article (Hebrew only) posted on the paper’s Web site Thursday morning that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual mentor of the Shas party, has endorsed a freeze on new Israeli construction in East Jerusalem in order to maintain good relations with the United States.
According to Kaspit, Yosef made the comments to Israeli President Shimon Peres during Peres’s Passover courtesy call to the rabbi on Friday morning, April 2. He cited sources who were present at the meeting. Yosef is quoted as saying Israel “must do everything to settle matters with the United States, we must pay any price to restore relations, we must not provoke the nations of the world…” He is further quoted as saying that it’s possible to stop building in Jerusalem for a certain period and focus efforts on other regions such as the center of the country, and there would be no harm in resuming construction in a few years, after the crisis has passed.
Yosef has been a longtime advocate of trading land for peace. His party leaders tend to be far more hawkish than he is, but follow his instructions on critical votes.
Shas party chairman Eli Yishai, Yosef’s chief disciple and the Cabinet’s most vociferous opponent of compromise in Jerusalem, reportedly told Maariv in response to a query about Yosef’s words that nothing of the sort took place. The president’s aides declined comment.
Kaspit speculates that Yosef’s statements will complicate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to deflect White House pressure for a construction freeze on grounds that his coalition would collapse.