WASHINGTON — Israel’s continued building across the Green Line is “incompatible with their stated desire to live in a peaceful society,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday, in response to reports that Israel would continue to advance building plans in controversial Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Psaki said that while the US had yet to hear an “official announcement” that plans to build in East Jerusalem would go forward, the US is “certainly deeply concerned” by the reports.
Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the topic more broadly during a phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend, Psaki said, and added that the embassy was currently “engaging at the highest levels… to get more information” regarding Israeli plans in the city.
“We view settlement activities as illegitimate and we are unequivocally opposed to unilateral steps,” Psaki emphasized. Although she was not directly asked about the state of the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington, the State Department spokeswoman quickly added that “the defense relationships remain as strong as ever and the ties between us are unshakable” — an unusual phrasing for an often-formulaic statement of support.
Usually, such statements do not include the word “defense” as a qualifier, but speak to the larger relationship between the two states.
“There are times in which we disagree with the Israeli government,” Psaki added, drawing an apparent distinction between defense ties and political ties with governments and their policies.
Psaki drew a connection between Israel’s building in settlements and continued terror activities targeting Israeli civilians, including the vehicular attack that killed two people last Wednesday in Jerusalem. “The key challenge is, if Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps to reduce tensions,” Psaki admonished.
Netanyahu, at Monday’s opening of the Knesset winter session, defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem.
“There is wide agreement among the public that Israel has the full right to build the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” the prime minister said. “Every Israeli government in the last 50 years did that, and it is also clear to the Palestinians that those places will stay under Israeli control in any mutual agreement.
“The French build in Paris, the English build in London, the Israelis build in Jerusalem. Should we tell Jews not to live in Jerusalem because it will stir things up?” Netanyahu continued.
The prime minister spoke soon after sources told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu has recommended plans be advanced for about 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem. The plans call for roughly 400 units in Har Homa, in the city’s southeast, and 660 homes in Ramat Shlomo, in the northeast corner of the capital, according to the sources in the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu will also push new infrastructure projects in the West Bank, including roads that will also serve the Palestinian population, a PMO source said.
Israel’s Channel 2 news reported Sunday night that Netanyahu is also in negotiations with right-wing lawmakers and settler officials over approval for a large West Bank development project, including 2,000 new units, 12 new roads, parks, student villages, and renovation of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.