President Shimon Peres said Tuesday Israel was willing to change things in the Golan Heights, but will not agree to Iranian presence there.
The president spoke after the US State Department expressed "deep concern" over the approved plans for construction of 942 new homes in the neighborhood of Gilo, which lies beyond the 1967 borders. The condemnation was issued just hours after Peres's meeting with US President Barack Obama.
In an interview with CNN during his visit to Washington, Peres said Israel has always desired peace with Damascus and that all former prime ministers have been willing to give up the former Syrian territory in exchange for a deal.
However, the Syrian government must choose between peace with Israel or continuing to 'service Hezbollah and Iran", the president said. He added that he is following events in the country, where protests against President Bashar Assad's regime have proliferated recently.
Peres also commended Obama, with whom he met at the White House Tuesday evening, for his support of Israel, saying simply that Israelis who dislike Obama "are wrong".
He said Obama, whose intentions were often misunderstood by Israelis, had expressed “steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel in any international forum”. He cited the US veto of a UN condemnation of settlements as well as the country's support for Israel against the “blood libel” of the Goldstone report.
Meanwhile the State Department condemned construction in Gilo. "We're deeply concerned about the announcement of the approval for these units," State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said.
"We believe that through good-faith direct negotiations the parties should mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties. Ultimately, a lack of resolution to this conflict, harms Israel, harms the Palestinians and harms the interests of the United States and the international community."
Peres and Obama on Tuesday (Photo: Mark Neiman, GPO)
On Monday Jerusalem's local planning and construction committee approved the homes, which will cover some 88,000 square meters along with commercial zones, public structures, and sport and luxury areas.
The plans also include a clause allowing for expansion of up to 300 additional housing units. The plans are now up for approval by the district committee.
Gilo is by consensus considered Israeli territory though it lies beyond the Green Line, but construction there has previously sparked international criticism. The most recent plans were approved just a day before Peres was scheduled to meet Obama.
After their meeting, the US president said he would like to promote a real peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. "With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it's more urgent than ever than we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis," he said.
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