Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has toughened his stance ahead his scheduled meeting with the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Thursday, rejecting any American and international criticism regarding building in east Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem is not a settlement – Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. Israel has never restricted itself regarding any kind of building in the city, which is home to some 800,000 people – including during the 10-month construction moratorium in the West Bank," the PM said Tuesday.
"Israel sees no connection between the peace process and the planning and building policy in Jerusalem, something that hasn't changed for the past 40 years. All Israeli governments have built in all parts of the city in the past 40 years.
"During this time," he added, "We have signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and have held negotiations with the Palestinians for 17 years. Construction in Jerusalem has never obstructed the peace process."
Netanyahu spoke just hours after US President Barack Obama told a press conference in Indonesia that Israeli construction in east Jerusalem "is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations."
The Israeli premier added that "the disagreements between Israel and the US regarding Jerusalem are well-known, and I hope to overcome them and move the peace talks forward. We intend to advance the peace negotiations during Thursday's meeting with Secretary of State Clinton."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the statement from Netanyahu's office was unhelpful, and rejected its suggestion there was no link between settlement activity and the peace process.
"There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent on both parties, as we've insisted all along, that they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation," Crowley said. "To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect."
On Monday, the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee approved the construction of 32 housing units in the eastern part of Pisgat Ze'ev, a neighborhood located beyond the Green Line.
The construction, which has been a bone of contention in the international community, was approved during Netanyahu's visit to the United States.
Senior Israeli cabinet members estimated that Netanyahu purposely created the current row to shore up support among Israel's Right ahead of his meeting with Clinton.
"Netanyahu is playing opposite (Foreign Minister Avigdor) Lieberman in the political arena and he may be trying to soften his constituency ahead of a possible agreement on a West Bank construction freeze and the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians," a senior government official said.
Kadima accused Netanyahu of "focusing in internal politics," with one party official saying the PM "has no intention of changing the make up of the coalition. All he wants is to preserve the current government, which is going nowhere."
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