Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) slammed as “deplorable” the White House’s condemnation of Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting, for housing construction in Jerusalem.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday that the U.S. is “deeply concerned by reports that Israeli government has moved forward with the planning process in the sensitive area — or in a sensitive area of east Jerusalem.”
“This step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they were to proceed with tenders or construction in that area,” Earnest continued. “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.”
“It also would call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”
Earnest said the construction issues “did come up in the conversations” between President Obama and Netanyahu.
Netanyahu told MSNBC today that the Obama administration “should get acquainted with the facts first.”
“I find that curious, because the criticism was leveled at a new neighborhood that was mixed. It had a substantial part of the apartments apportioned — parceled out to Arabs, to Palestinians alongside Jews. So it’s — why not have them live together?” Netanyahu said.
“The second part of the criticism was actually baffling to me, because it criticized individual Jews who bought apartments in an Arab neighborhood. Now Jews buy apartments, private property, in Arab neighborhoods. Arabs buy apartments in Jewish neighborhoods. And I find that that’s the right thing to do.”
The prime minister stressed that he and Obama did not get into these specific issues, even though the White House and State Department press secretaries began slamming Israel over the construction.
State Department press secretary Jen Psaki was asked to clarify her criticism today.
“We’re talking about settlement activity and the fact that there are multiple stages in the process and the fact that it continued, and that’s why we expressed our concern,” Psaki said. “Our position is not changing. I was answering the question broadly. Obviously, as we stated yesterday, we’re also referring to provocative actions that can make it more difficult to move forward in a peaceful manner in the region.”
“Israel remains an important partner, a security partner, a friend and ally. That has not changed… I think we’re talking about what the – what we’ve already seen to be the response from the international community to ongoing activities such as these.”
Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the United States should not be condemning zoning and permitting decisions made by Jerusalem’s municipal government.”
“Finally, the Obama Administration’s view of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts suggests that it has learned nothing from its six years of failed efforts. The administration can continue to live in a fantasy world where we are always just one step from a renewal of the peace process and the achievement of a comprehensive agreement, but the fact of the matter remains that Israel does not have a viable negotiating partner. Palestinian ‘leaders’ who make false accusations of genocide, partner with a terrorist group, and constantly peddle hateful rhetoric, rather than take the tough decisions required to create a lasting peace, are not seeking peace with Israel,” the senator continued.
“This is another case of President Obama’s bizarre logic of tearing down our closest partners while building up those who do not share our values. Especially now, when Israel and moderate Arab states in the Middle East are facing terrorist attacks, the president should begin to treat Israel as the invaluable and reliable friend it truly is.”