Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday rejected the harsh criticism issued by the White House, condemning the plan to build new housing units beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem.
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"I don’t understand that criticism and I can't accept that position," the prime minister told reporters early on Friday (Israel time) during a press briefing at the Palace Hotel in New York.
On Wednesday, the White House and U.S. State Department warned that Israel's decision to move ahead with the planning process of 2,600 new housing units in Jerusalem's Givat Hamatos neighborhood, and the recent occupation of some 25 apartments in Silwan, located near the Old City in Jerusalem, will "poison the atmosphere" with the Palestinians and the Arab world.
"It is better to know the material before deciding to take such a stance," Netanyahu responded to the White House statement.
The prime minister was especially critical of the American condemnation regarding Silwan.
"Arabs in Jerusalem are free to purchase apartments in the western [part of the] city and no one is arguing against it," Netanyahu said. "I have no intention of telling Jews they can't buy apartments in East Jerusalem. This is private property and an individual right. There cannot be discrimination – not against Jews and not against Arabs," he added. "This goes against values that the United States also believes in."
Netanyahu said that those who moved into the apartments in Silwan did so as private citizens and not as part of a government plan. Buying a house was a fundamental right, he said, adding that he will not allow for it to change. "Every person is entitled to private property. No one stole those houses or confiscated the property. Arabs are selling houses to Jews and Jews are selling houses to Arabs."
The prime minister also slammed Israeli NGO Peace Now for publishing a statement on Wednesday criticizing the Jerusalem municipality's decision to go ahead with the construction plans in East Jerusalem.
"It didn't happen by chance," he said, accusing the group of a "clear" attempt to sabotage his meeting with U.S. President Obama that took place later that day. "This demonstrates a lack of national responsibility," he added.
Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit said in the briefing that the apartments in Silwan were purchased properly and legally. He added that the Jewish residents moved into the apartments in coordination with the Jerusalem municipality. "It's just like Arab citizens are allowed to do the same," he said. "We can do nothing to prevent it."
Mendelblit said that plans for new housing units in Givat Hamatos had already been approved by the government two years ago. He noted that it was a municipal committee that approved it last week, and said that it was merely a "technical part" of the planning process. The law doesn’t even require the decision to be published, he added.