US warns Israel against building new settlements in E. Jerusalem
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the development – which calls for more than 2,600 new homes in a highly contested area of east Jerusalem – would make world nations “question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement” with Palestinians.
“This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations,” Psaki said, as quoted by Reuters.
Psaki’s comments were repeated by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who spoke to reporters in the hours after President Barack Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu. The meeting marked the first time the two leaders sat down for talks since the war in Gaza broke out in July.
Although the US has repeatedly condemned Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem over the years, the current project is particularly controversial since it involves the part of the city that Palestinians want to be included in their future state. According to the AP, this project would also “complete a band of Jewish areas that separate Jerusalem from nearby Bethlehem,” which is home primarily to Palestinians.
Obama expressed concern over the project during his meeting with Netanyahu, the AP reported, but the issue was not brought up during the leaders’ public statements.
According to the AP, Obama told Netanyahu that at this “challenging time” they must “find ways to change the status quo so that both Israel citizens are safe in their own homes, and schoolchildren in their schools, from the possibility of rocket fire but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.” Israel’s latest military operation in Gaza killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, according to Gaza officials. More than 70 Israelis were killed.
Jerusalem Municipality officials published the announcement on settlements just before Obama met with Netanyahu, noting the project was approved back in 2012 and that Wednesday’s publication was a “technical” move. The municipality’s spokesman told the Jerusalem Post that construction is “essential for the city’s development for all the sectors.”
However, the Peace Now organization, which advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said the settlement plan “divides the potential Palestinian state and blocks the possibility to connect the Palestinian neighborhoods in south Jerusalem with the future Palestinian state.”
For its part, Israel claims it has the right to develop in east Jerusalem since it annexed that portion of the city following the Six-Day War in 1967 – a move that was not recognized by the international community.
During the Wednesday talks, Obama and Netanyahu also focused on the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. International powers have until November 24 to strike a deal with the country, though all sides acknowledged that large differences have yet to be ironed out.