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Why Is Washington Enraged Over More Homes for Jews in Jerusalem?

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Here we ago again: the White House and the State Department are verbally flogging Israel. This time in what the Times of Israel calls “some of the strongest language [the administration] has used to condemn Israel.”

On Wednesday evening, soon after President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu had completed their parley at the White House, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said:

This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations.

And White House spokesman Josh Earnest—seeming to read in part from the same script—said: “This development will only draw condemnation from the international community. It also would call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians."

What was it that they were so up in arms about?

On Wednesday morning, seeking to trip up Netanyahu before his meeting with Obama, the Israeli far-left organization Peace Now publicized the fact that last week the Jerusalem municipality approved construction of 2500 homes in an “East Jerusalem” neighborhood called Givat Hamatos (it means “Airplane Hill” in Hebrew).

Given the administration’s outrage, one might think Israel was again committing the grave offense of building for Jews in “East Jerusalem.” Except that this time the homes are slated for both Jews and Arabs in a mixed neighborhood. In Washington, though, it doesn’t help Israel’s case.

What do people mean when they say “East Jerusalem”?

The term actually refers to northern, eastern, and southern parts of Jerusalem that were occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. Only two countries, Britain and Pakistan, recognized the Jordanian occupation. During it Jews were denied all access to their holy sites while Jordanian snipers fired repeatedly into the Jewish part of the city. Christians suffered as well, their “East Jerusalem” population dwindling from 25,000 in 1949 to 10,000 in 1967 as they were given only paltry access to their holy sites and forced to teach the Koran in their church schools (accounts here and here).