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In Washington, Jerusalem mayor asserts no freeze

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(JTA) — Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat called the Obama administration’s demand for a construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem a "slap in the face."

Barkat during a meeting with reporters in Washington on Tuesday night also denied that there is a de facto freeze on building in Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.  

“There are more buildings being built right now,” Barkat said. “In a place like Jerusalem, we need to build for both Jews and Arabs. If we give the Palestinians any hold at all on the city, it will be a Trojan horse for the Jews in Jerusalem.”

Regarding the strained relations between the United States and Israel, which began after the Jerusalem municipality approved new housing construction in eastern Jerusalem during a visit in March by Vice President Joe Biden, Barkat said, "It takes time to recover from an attack by an ally such as the U.S., but I believe that the tensions are now behind us."

Barkat said there will be announcements soon of new housing construction following the temporary halt to construction due to the U.S. reprimand.

Barkat is not part of the delegation of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak now visiting Washington and New York.

Barak reportedly is furious with Barkat for stoking tensions with the Obama administration. Barkat said he had a right to speak out.

"As mayor of Jerusalem, if Jerusalem is being discussed, I think that knowing the city practically, probably better than others, people would like to hear my thoughts," he said. "I’m an elected official, I propose to hear my voice."

The mayor, notably, had no meetings with senior administration officials. He had only one public meeting, with Republican Congress members, and met with congressional Democrats behind closed doors.

At his news conference with U.S. House of Representatives minority whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the Republicans took shots at the White House.

"You see strong bipartisan support" in Congress for Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, Cantor said, "as opposed to what is coming out of the White House."
 

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