Israel's decision to move forward its plan for 2,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem will "poison the atmosphere" and call into question Israel's commitment to peace, the U.S. State Department and White House said Wednesday.
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Israeli nonprofit Peace Now published a statement condemning the plan to build new housing units in Givat Hamatos Wednesday, ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.
Although the Jerusalem Municipality published its approval of the plans to build the units last week, the plan was already approved in early December 2012 by a planning committee.
Peace Now explained that the publication of the approval "is the last step before tenders can be issued and construction can start." It charged that the plan was "destructive to the two-state solution," and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to "destroy the possibility" of peace.
"This is not a new plan," the Jerusalem Municipality said in response, accusing Peace Now of creating a "provocation" and adding that the housing units are intended for Jews and Arabs.
U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the step would send a "troubling message" if the Israeli government proceeded with tenders and construction. "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," Psaki told a briefing.
In addition, it would "call into question Israel's ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement," she added.
At a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday, the prime minister said that he remains "committed to the vision of peace for two states for two peoples."
A source familiar with the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu said that the U.S. president raised the issue of settlement construction during their talks, but that he did not specifically mention the Silwan or Givat Hamatos neighborhoods. Obama emphasized that the settlement construction feeds a cycle of provocations, and added that amid the ongoing efforts to stop and soften Palestinian steps at the United Nations, settlement construction would be even more damaging.
Shortly before the meeting, a source in Netanyahu's entourage responded to Peace Now's statement, saying: "We're used to the fact that before every meeting the prime minister has with the U.S. president, somebody tries to sabotage it," Haaretz reported earlier.
Obama told Netanyahu at the meeting that the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians, in Gaza and the West Bank, must change in order to advance peace.