WASHINGTON – The White House rebuked Israel with heavy criticism Tuesday after the Jerusalem city government moved toward the construction of 900 additional housing units in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim for the capital of their future state.
President Barack Obama has made restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians a top foreign policy goal. To that end, he has demanded that Israel cease building new or expanding existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered restraint on settlement building in the West Bank, where Palestinians want to create an independent state, but has refused to budge from Israel’s long-standing insistence that the status of Jerusalem is not open for negotiation.
In criticizing the Israeli housing plan, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said:
“We are dismayed,” and he criticized the Israelis as making “it more difficult for our efforts (toward peacemaking) to succeed.”
Netanyahu’s office quickly fired back that the Jerusalem neighborhood in question, Gilo, “is an integral part of Jerusalem. … Building in Gilo has continued unabated for decades, and there is nothing new in the current planning and construction.”