An unnamed official from the Prime Minister’s Office said Wednesday that Israel was “deeply disappointed” by remarks made by Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday, and defended Israel’s right to approve construction in East Jerusalem, the New York Times reported.

Speaking at a US Senate hearing on Tuesday, Kerry called out Israel and the Palestinians for their “unhelpful moves,” specifically highlighting Israel’s shirking a commitment to release Palestinian prisoners and approving construction tenders in an East Jerusalem neighborhood.

“The prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day, and then 700 units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof — that was sort of the moment,” he said.

The secretary of state was referring to the planned fourth release of Palestinian security prisoners, which was originally slated for March 29. Israel did not proceed with the release on time, with Jerusalem saying that it was delayed because the Palestinian Authority had demanded that Israeli Arabs be among those freed and was unwilling to commit to extend peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline.

On April 1, the Israel Lands Authority reissued a call for tenders for 708 homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is located beyond the 1967 lines and was annexed by Israel.

A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem (photo credit: Uri Lenz / Flash90)

A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem (photo credit: Uri Lenz / Flash90)

However, the PMO official insisted that in the preconditions for peace talks, “Israel did not commit to any limitation on construction. Therefore, the Palestinian claim that building in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, was a violation of the understandings is contrary to the facts,” he said. “Both the American negotiating team and the Palestinians know full well that Israel made no such commitment.”

In contrast, by turning to the international agencies, the Palestinians “violated their fundamental commitments,” he maintained.

Kerry’s statements will merely “hurt the negotiations and harden Palestinian positions,” he charged.

“Israel wants to see the negotiations continue and will persist in its efforts to resolve the current crisis,” the PMO official continued. However, following the Palestinian bid, he warned cryptically that “Israel will take unilateral steps of its own.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered government officials Wednesday not to meet with their Palestinian counterparts, in the first measures taken against the PA since the international bid.

“In response to the Palestinian violation of their commitments under peace talks… Israel government ministers have been told to refrain from meeting their Palestinian counterparts,” an official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.