Nation & World

White House criticized for remarks critical of Israel

The White House came under sharp criticism Thursday for its own sharp criticism of planned Israeli housing construction in East Jerusalem -- which it levied Wednesday just after President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday the U.S. was “deeply concerned” by reports that the Israeli government was planning new housing in what he called a “sensitive area of East Jerusalem.

“The step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians,” Earnest said. “And it would send a very troubling message if they were to proceed with tenders or construction in that area.”

Earnest warned the development would draw condemnation from the international community and “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.”

He said the U.S. also condemns the recent occupation of residential buildings in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, “by individuals who are associated with an organization whose agenda, by definition, stokes tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.”

He said Obama and Netanyahu discussed the topics.

But critics, including the Anti-Defamation League, criticized the critique and its timing.

“Just days after the president told the U.N. that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from the main destabilizing factor in the region, elevating the issue of settlement construction to center stage by calling into question Israel’s commitment to peace and suggesting it is a potential wedge in its alliances is misplaced,” said ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman.

He noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had used his address at the U.N. to turn away from direct negotiations and said the “escalation and harshness of U.S. criticism ignores and, ultimately, serves to reinforce this intransigence.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called the decision to criticize Israel even as Obama hosted Netanyahu “deplorable.

“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the United States should not be condemning zoning and permitting decisions made by Jerusalem’s municipal government,” Rubio said.