White House Responds to Netanyahu: American Values Gave Israel the Iron Dome

White House resumes criticism of Israel's decision to continue settlement construction, says 'odd' of Netanyahu to call stance 'un-American'.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at his daily briefing on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks that American criticism of Israeli settlement construction was against American values, “did seem odd.”

“It did seem odd for him to defend Israel's position by saying US position is un-American,” Earnest said. “American values are why this country's support for Israel has been unwavering.” Earnest repeated the U.S. criticism of settlement construction and said that continuing it “will send a troubling message” about Israel’s intentions.

The White House statement was a lengthy defense of U.S. policy toward Israel, centered around the "American values" theme that Netanyahu raised.

"The fact is, when it comes to American values, it’s American values that lend this country’s unwavering support to Israel. It's American values that have led us to fight for and secure funding to strengthen Israel's security in tangible ways."

Earnest said it was U.S. funding for Israel's "Iron Dome" system that has prevented Hamas rockets from hitting their targets. "It's American values that have led us to fund and build an Iron Dome system that protected the lives of countless innocent Israeli citizens," he said.

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.

Netanyahu last week dismissed the recent White House rebuke of Israeli settlement construction, telling Israeli reporters following his meeting with President Barack Obama and again in an interview with CBS on Sunday that the criticism goes "against American values."

"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.

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."

In the interview broadcast on CBS's "Face the Nation," Netanyahu said he does not accept restrictions on where Jews could live, and said that Jerusalem's Arabs and Jews should be able to buy homes wherever they want.

He said he was "baffled" by the American condemnation. "It's against the American values. And it doesn't bode well for peace," he repeated. "The idea that we'd have this ethnic purification as a condition for peace, I think it's anti-peace." The interview was recorded Thursday.

Opposition leader and Labor Chairman Isaac Herzog lashed out at Netanyahu on Monday following the White House secretary's statement: "Netanyahu, perhaps you can explain just once how the irresponsible blows you are exchanging with the American administration are serving our vital interests?" said Herzog. "There is no trap in the relations with the United States that Netanyahu hasn't fallen into. The prime minister once again is causing a stupid and dangerous fight with the American administration and once again harming the most vital interests of the State of Israel and its citizens."

"The strategic break in the relations with the United States is sitting on the doorstep of all the members of the coalition and I call on [Yair] Lapid and [Tzipi] Livni to come to the appropriate conclusions."

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