Less than 24 hours after the new Israeli government was formed, the United States yesterday objected to its controversial plan to build new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem.
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State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters the administration was “disappointed” and “concerned” over government approval of the construction plans for Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem.
“This is a disappointing development as the new Israeli government has been announced – and we are concerned about it. We need to see commitment for the two-state solution in the actions of the new government,” he said. “Building in East Jerusalem is damaging and inconsistent with the commitment to the two-state solution.”
The criticism came in response to the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee’s decision to go ahead with the construction. The plan became notorious in 2010 when it was announced during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, causing a diplomatic tiff with Washington.
Since then the plan has received its final approval, on condition that the construction begins only with the completion of a new interchange into Ramat Shlomo, a Haredi neighborhood.
At a meeting Thursday, this last obstacle was removed when the committee granted the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation’s request to start building 900 of the 1,800 planned housing units, without completing the interchange.
The criticism came a few hours after the White House issued a statement congratulating the new government and saying President Barack Obama was looking forward to working together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new government. But it also said "We also look forward to continuing consultations onthe importance of pursuing a two-state solution."
A week ago Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman warned that if the new Israeli government does not demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution, the United States will have a difficult time continuing to assist its efforts to halt international initiatives on the Palestinian issue at the United Nations.
Sherman's statement followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement in the days leading up to the elections that if he were elected prime minister, a Palestinian state would not be created.
Sherman said the U.S. administration "will be watching very closely to see what happens on this issue after the new government is formed. If the new Israeli government is seen to be stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution that will make our job in the international arena much tougherit will be harder for us to prevent internationalizing the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict."