Israel defends construction plans in East Jerusalem
Prime minister denies any links to peace process
JERUSALEM — Israel hotly defended its new construction plans for disputed East Jerusalem against criticism from President Obama, Palestinians, and the European Union, insisting yesterday that it never agreed to halt the building and sharpening a crisis that threatens to derail peace talks.
A harsh statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office insisted that “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is the capital of the state of Israel.’’
It continued: “Israel sees no link between the peace process and its development plans in Jerusalem.’’
The statement followed denunciations of a plan to build 1,300 apartments in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians regard as illegal settlements.
Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War, as the capital of their future state. The international community has not recognized Israel’s annexation of the city’s eastern sector.
The latest flare-up in the settlement issue has underlined its potential to scuttle US efforts to broker a peace accord. Palestinians see the settlements as a threat to their hopes for a state that would encompass the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, and charge that the continued construction is solidifying Israel’s presence there. Settlers say openly that their goal is to prevent creation of a Palestinian state.
Palestinians have said they will not resume peace talks, restarted at the White House in September, unless Israel halts construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, reinforcing their demand that Israel renew a 10-month West Bank settlement slowdown that expired in September, and add Jerusalem to it.
The Israeli statement yesterday hotly rejected that.
“Israel has never taken upon itself limits on construction in Jerusalem,’’ it said, “including during the 10-month building suspension in Judea and Samaria,’’ biblical terms for the West Bank.
Yesterday, Obama added his voice to the criticism of the latest building plan, calling it unhelpful to the peace process. Obama spoke during a tour of Indonesia.
EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, also condemned the plan, saying in a statement yesterday that it “contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed.’’
Palestinians accuse Netanyahu, who is visiting the United States, of choosing settlements over peace.
In a statement, settler leaders accused Obama of hypocrisy, adding that his criticism showed he is “out of touch with the reality of facts on the ground.’’
Netanyahu, who made his career as a settlement-backing hard-liner, last year for the first time endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state and said recently that drawing borders would solve the settlement problem — implying that he would agree to removing settlements that fall within the territory of a Palestinian state.
Palestinians mistrust Netanyahu because of his record and because his government includes intransigent backers of the settlements and opponents of giving up control of the West Bank.