JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office sharply rejected international criticism of Israel’s most recently announced building plans in East Jerusalem, saying in a statement: “Jerusalem is not a settlement: Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel.”
The statement said that Israel had “never agreed to limit its construction in any way in Jerusalem where 800,000 inhabitants live.”
The comments came on the heels of President Obama’s criticism of the construction plans. Speaking during his visit to Indonesia, Mr. Obama said that the Israeli announcement — plans for 1,000 new units for a contested part of East Jerusalem — added to the difficulties of Israeli-Palestinian talks. “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” he said, “and I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough.”
The statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office addressed the talks by saying that “Israel sees no connection at all between the peace process and building plans in Jerusalem.”
It also noted that Israeli governments had built housing in Jerusalem for the past 40 years and that Egypt and Jordan had signed peace treaties with Israel during that time.
“The differences of opinion between the United States and Israel on the subject of Jerusalem are well known,” it said. “We hope to overcome them and to continue to make progress in diplomatic negotiations.”
The Israeli announcement came in the form of plans published for public review in the back pages of local newspapers on Friday, just before Mr. Netanyahu headed to Washington. But as in previous announcements of new construction plans on disputed land, Israeli officials said that the timing was bureaucratically determined, not politically.
They said the latest announcement was a result of a decision by housing bodies three weeks ago. Still, the timing coincidence raised questions of what Mr. Netanyahu knew and when.
After Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s visit to Israel was marred last March by an announcement of Jerusalem building plans that Mr. Netanyahu said came as a surprise to him, American officials said they made clear to the Israelis that they expected no further such surprises in the coming months.
At the time, Mr. Netanyahu’s aides said he sent out letters to all offices concerned with settlement building demanding detailed lists of upcoming plans to avoid such an unexpected announcement while peace talks with the Palestinians were under way or in preparation.
It was unclear whether Mr. Netanyahu knew about the latest announcement before it was published in newspapers late last week.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement on Tuesday that Israel’s actions threatened the negotiating process and was “a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian State.”
The statement added: “Once more, at the moment that we expected Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce a full settlement freeze from Washington D.C., he has sent Palestinians and the U.S. administration a clear message that Israel chooses settlements, not peace. Netanyahu sent the same message during U.S. Vice-President Biden’s visit last March by announcing a plan to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo settlement.
“Israel’s settlement enterprise which is comprised not only of the actual settlements but also the wall, settler-only roads, and movement restrictions on Palestinians, is nothing but a premeditated process to kill the possibility of an independent Palestinian state.”
The Palestinian leadership has been talking for some weeks about shifting it focus to getting international recognition of a Palestinian state if settlement building continued and peace talks remained stalled. The Obama administration has urged it not to go that route.
On Tuesday it also became clear that some 800 housing units would be built in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Those units had been planned since the early 1990s but were held up due to a dispute over land ownership which concluded several weeks ago. The units are privately funded on private land and do not require special government permission to go forward although if a settlement freeze were under way they too would be halted.
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