British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday called Israeli construction in East Jerusalem “genuinely shocking” during a discussion at the British Parliament, even as he insisted that he was a “great friend of Israel” and defined Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“I am well known for being a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say the first time I visited Jerusalem and had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what had happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem, occupied East Jerusalem, it is genuinely shocking,” Cameron said during a weekly question-answer session.
Some 200,000 Israelis live among about 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, most of them in Jewish neighborhoods built after 1967.
While Israel maintains it has the right to build anywhere in the capital, the international community never recognized its annexation of East Jerusalem, and building there is frequently condemned.
Cameron was likely referring to a 2007 trip he took before being elected prime minister. During that visit he toured several parts of Jerusalem and the surrounding area, including visiting a promenade that skirts the Jerusalem seam line.
“What this government has consistently done and gone on doing is saying, ‘Yes, we are supporters of Israel but we do not support illegal settlement, we do not want to support what is happening in East Jerusalem, and it’s very important that this capital city is maintained the way it was in the past,’” Cameron said.
His comments came in response to a question by Bradford East Labour MP Imran Hussein, who said he had visited the home of a woman in the Old City of Jerusalem who was one of many people being forced out by settlers.
“Does the prime minister agree with me that illegal settlements and construction are a major roadblock that hinder peaceful negotiations and what is this government doing to help prevent the infringement of Palestinian lives and land?” Imran asked.
Cameron called the question “incredibly important.”
Cameron’s statement came two days after posters accusing Israel of apartheid and massacres of Palestinians were posted illegally on the London Underground subway system.
Officials quickly removed the posters, with Israeli politicians squabbling over who contacted British authorities to deal with the problem.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem immediately after capturing it in 1967 and later declared the unified city its capital. Palestinians claim the eastern half of the city as their future capital.