Bibi: Jerusalem building, peace unconnected

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he sees no connection between peace and building in eastern Jerusalem.

Netanyahu made the comment after President Obama, during an official visit to Indonesia, cautioned that such building is “never helpful.”

Obama was asked to react to Monday’s announcement of the approval of the construction of 1,000 new units.

“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations, and I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough,” the U.S. leader said.

Obama’s comments fell considerably short of the sharp U.S. condemnations that characterized the last such confrontation, when Israel announced 1,600 units during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in March.

Obama’s statement was notable as well for assigning blame to both Israel and the Palestinians in failing to return to direct talks.

A top European Union official was more one-sided in assigning blame.

"This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed," said Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu issued a statement saying that neither he nor any predecessor had agreed to limit building in Israel’s capital.

“Israel sees no connection at all between the peace process and building plans in Jerusalem,” his statement said.

In fact, a number of prime ministers have quietly slowed building in Jerusalem at sensitive periods in the peace process, including Netanyahu.

The Obama administration has been pressing Israel and the Palestinians to return to direct talks since late September, when the Palestinians walked out after Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement building.

Separately, senior Obama administration officials said the president’s agenda in Indonesia included a request that the world’s most populous Muslim state, as a "major player" in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, press Iran to be more forthcoming about its nuclear program.

Iran recently wrote Ashton about the possibility of resuming talks with the West over its nuclear program, Politico reported.

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