White House Comes Down Hard on Netanyahu

White House press secretary Josh Earnest at the daily press briefing, Monday.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
White House press secretary Josh Earnest at the daily press briefing, Monday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The White House on Monday stood firmly behind its criticism of Israeli construction in Yehudah and Shomron and pushed back against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s comment that the U.S. rebuke goes “against American values.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest pointedly noted the U.S. has long supported Israel, defended it in international disputes and financed its defense, including the Iron Dome system to protect Israelis from Hamas rockets.

“It did seem odd for him to try to defend the actions of his government by saying that our response did not reflect American values,” Earnest said.

“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,” he added.

The issue centers on last week’s final go-ahead for construction of a new housing development in the neighborhood of Shiloach in east Yerushalayim. Netanyahu defended the decision on the basis that just as in America, private citizens are legally free to purchase housing without facing discrimination, so should they be in Israel. He also noted that the project in question was designed about equally for the Arab public, not only Jewish Israelis.

“It’s against the American values. And it doesn’t bode well for peace,” Netanyahu said. “The idea that we’d have this ethnic purification as a condition for peace, I think it’s anti-peace.”

Earnest said Monday that it has been longstanding U.S. policy to oppose any unilateral action that attempts to prejudge the status of Yerushalayim. “These can only be legitimately determined through direct negotiations between the parties that this president has worked hard to try to facilitate,” Earnest said.

Earnest warned last week that the project would distance Israel from “even its closest allies” and raise questions about its commitment to seeking peace with Palestinians.

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