Israel and US in back-and-forth over East Jerusalem construction
Israel vowed Wednesday to continue construction in East Jerusalem, keeping up a public back-and-fourth with the United States, which slapped its key Middle Eastern ally on the wrist over the issue three times in 24 hours, DPA reported.
"There was no freeze in Jerusalem. There will be no freeze in Jerusalem. This has been the policy of all Israeli governments for 40 years," said Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser.
He noted some 300,000 Israelis lived in Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem built beyond the "green line" separating Israel from the West Bank.
"I don't think that anyone would conceive a freeze there. This city is developing, both for the benefit of its Arab and its Jewish population, in all its parts," Hauser told Israel Radio.
Israeli construction in those settlements, which he said would become part of Israel under any future peace deal, "never hindered the negotiations with Egypt, Jordan or the Palestinians in previous years," he argued.
The cabinet secretary tried to downplay accusations of a serious Israeli-US rift over the issue, charging the media were trying to create drama.
He noted that Israeli authorities took the decision to build 1,345 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlements of Har Homa and Ramot already October 20, but charged "publication was timed for some reason with the premier's visit to the US."
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday said such plans were "never helpful". A day earlier, the US State department said Washington was "deeply disappointed" by Israel's plans to build in the settlements.
The plans were published in Israel newspapers earlier this week while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in New Orleans, where he met with US Vice President Joe Biden.
Following the US criticism, Netanyahu's Jerusalem office issued a statement late Tuesday, insisting that "Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel" and that "Israel has never accepted upon itself restrictions of any kind on construction in Jerusalem."
It added it saw "no connection" between the peace process and Israel's "planning and building policy in Jerusalem, which has not changed in 40 years."
US Assistant Secretary Philip J Crowley, answering reporters' questions in Washington, however then countered that "there clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties, as we have insisted all along, that they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation."
"So to suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side, I think, is incorrect."
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York on Thursday.
Israel says it wants Jewish "neighbourhoods" of Jerusalem expanding onto West Bank land to be part of its self-declared capital under any future peace deal. But the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and charge the construction is eating away at their future state and capital.
Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.