White House rebukes Israel over eastern Jerusalem building
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White House rebukes Israel over eastern Jerusalem building

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israel’s go-ahead for new housing in eastern Jerusalem would “poison the atmosphere” and distance Israel from “even its closest allies,” the White House said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest delivered the unusually sharp remarks on Wednesday, just after President Obama concluded a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Earnest said Obama raised the topic with Netanyahu.

“The United States is deeply concerned by reports that the Israeli government has moved forward with the planning process in a sensitive area of East Jerusalem,” Earnest told reporters in the daily briefing.

Earlier Wednesday, the Peace Now organization reported that a plan that was granted final approval in December 2012 for the construction of 2,610 housing units in the Jewish eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos was published last week. Publication of the plan allows tenders to be issued and construction to start.

“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 Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations,” Earnest said, referring to recent proposals by Netanyahu that Israel first broker peace with its Arab neighbors before it finalizes an agreement with the Palestinains.

“It would also call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians,” he said.

Earnest also condemned the recent move into Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem adjacent to the Old City, by Jewish families associated with an activist group, describing the activists’ agenda as one that “by definition stokes tension between Israelis and Palestinians.”

“Givat Hamatos is destructive to the two states solution,” Peace Now said in a statement on its website. “It divides the potential Palestinian state and blocks the possibility to connect the Palestinian neighborhoods in south Jerusalem with the future Palestinian state. Netanyahu continues his policy to destroy the possibility of a two state solution. He is doing so in the West Bank, and he is doing so in East Jerusalem.”

Separately, on Tuesday afternoon, masked Palestinians reportedly threw rocks and fireworks at a preschool in a Jewish neighborhood of the Mount of Olives in eastern Jerusalem.

The children, who were playing on the playground, were rushed into the building’s bomb shelter for protection, Ynet reported.