Netanyahu hits back at Obama over settlements criticism

U.S. warned Israel that East Jerusalem housing project would distance Israel from even its ‘closest allies’

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at the White House after Washington criticized Israeli plans to build thousands more settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli media reported on Thursday.

Public radio quoted Netanyahu as telling U.S. President Barack Obama in talks in Washington Wednesday to “study the facts and details before making statements” about the settlement plan.

In a striking public rebuke, the U.S. administration warned Israel on Wednesday that plans for a controversial new housing project in East Jerusalem would distance Israel from “even its closest allies” and raise questions about its commitment to seeking peace with Palestinians.

The harsh criticism came just hours after Obama and Netanyahu met at the White House. Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the president privately raised his concerns with Netanyahu though the two leaders made no mention of the matter in their public comments to reporters.

“This development will only draw condemnation from the international community,” Earnest said. “It also would call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu told Israeli journalists after the meeting that the settlement plans had been in the pipeline for two years.

France and Germany joined in on the U.S.’s criticism of Israel’s new settlement plans in East Jerusalem on Thursday, according to Reuters.

"We condemn the Israeli authorities’ decision to build 2,610 homes in Givat Hamatos," Reuters reported French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stating. Fabius added that the settlements would be the first new colony in East Jerusalem in 15 years.

Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel told Israeli army radio that 1,000 of the units would “go to Arabs,” but did not elaborate.

Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors the building of settlements, said it was extremely unlikely that any Palestinians would be allowed to live in the new settler homes in the neighborhood of Givat Hamatos.

The lands included in the plan are owned by the state, which would also publish the tenders, it said.

“Previous experience shows that the tenders in east Jerusalem are for Israelis,” the group said in a statement.

“Out of approximately 55,000 units built by the government in east Jerusalem neighborhoods... virtually none were sold to Palestinians,” it added.

Israel’s settlement building in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem has caused the breakdown of several rounds of peace talks.

The settlements are built on land the Palestinians want for their future state, whose capital would be in East Jerusalem.

Some 200,000 settlers live in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, as well as some 306,000 Palestinians, according to Jerusalem’s municipality.

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