Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “did not accept” the US’ harsh criticism over Israeli building plans in East Jerusalem. The city’s mayor pledged to go on with the controversial project.
Washington warned that Israel’s plan to construct 2,600 homes in East Jerusalem was at odds with attempts at peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and could lead to Tel Aviv finding itself alienated from “even its closest allies.”
“I don’t understand this criticism, and I don’t accept this position,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the accusations, voiced on Wednesday by US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki and later repeated by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
“It’s worth learning the information properly before deciding to take a position like that,” the PM added, as cited by the Times of Israel. “Arabs in Jerusalem purchase homes freely in the west of the city and nobody says that’s forbidden. I don’t intend to tell Jews that they can’t buy homes in East Jerusalem.”
In one of its most strongly-worded statements targeting Israel, the US State Department said the construction project “poisoned the atmosphere” of Israel’s relations with the Palestinians and with other Arab states as well.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat responded by saying he would not apologize for the project and would go on with its implementation.
“I say this firmly and clearly: building in Jerusalem is not poisonous and harmful – rather, it is essential, important and will continue with full force,” Barkat said on Thursday as cited by the Jerusalem Post. “I will not freeze construction for anyone in Israel’s capital. Discrimination based on religion, race or gender is illegal in the United States and in any other civilized country.”
The plan for building 2,600 apartments in Givat HaMatos neighborhood in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem, had been agreed upon two years ago, but it was not until September, 2014, that it received final approval.
The project came under the international spotlight after it was publicized by Peace Now, an NGO campaigning for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace Now released the news on the project hours before Netanyahu’s meeting with the US president in Washington.
The group said in its Wednesday statement that the Givat HaMatos project “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.”
The Israeli PM has in his turn accused the group of the timing of their news release on the project, which he believes was intended at harming Israel’s relations with Washington.