PM's Office: Construction Plans in East Jerusalem Are Nothing New

Netanyahu's office responds to criticism by the U.S. and France on Israel's plans to build nearly 240 new housing units east of the Green Line.

The Prime Minister's Office responded Saturday to the criticism by the United States and France regarding Israel's plans to build 238 new housing units in East Jerusalem, saying that announcements on renewal of construction in Jerusalem are nothing new.

Israel announced Friday its approval of tenders for 238 new housing units in areas of Jerusalem east of the Green Line, which triggered statements by both the U.S. and France saying they were "disappointed" by the announcement.

Benjamin Netanyahu AP September 5, 2010

"We have already said in the past that there is no longer a settlement freeze in Jerusalem," the PMO said. "Regarding the relationship with the United States, they received notification of the plan before we announced it."

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office also noted that even though the White House did not approve of the plans for further settlement construction, opposition to the settlements has been a U.S. policy for 40 years already.

Over the weekend, sources in Netanyahu's office said that as opposed to the time Israel announced new building plans during U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden's visit and caused an international uproar, this time Netanyahu was well aware of the plans and approved them before the announcement was made.

On Friday, the United States expressed disappointment over reports that Israel had approved tenders for construction of nearly 240 new housing units in East Jerusalem.

"We were disappointed by the announcement of new tenders in East Jerusalem yesterday. It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said during a press conference in Washington.

On Saturday, France also condemned Israel's construction plans, saying that "France is deeply disappointed" by the decision and urged the Israeli government to reconsider.

Earlier Saturday, Egypt said that Israel's building permits for 238 new housing units in East Jerusalem are a sign that direct peace talks could collapse. On Friday, the Arab League said it may ask the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state if Israel goes ahead with building settlements.

Also on Saturday, the Organization of the Islamic Conference condemned Israel for renewing settlement construction in East Jerusalem and urged the international community to put an end to what it called "Israeli arrogance."