WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Hours after U.S. President Barack Obama held bilateral talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Wednesday, U.S. officials publicly criticized Israel for its settlement plans.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki and White House press secretary Josh Earnest issued nearly identical strongly worded statements in response to reports that the Israeli Government was moving forward with planning settlements in the Givat Hamatos area of East Jerusalem.
"This step is contrary to Israel's stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed with tenders or construction.
"This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies; poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations; and call into question Israel's ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians."
Netanyahu fired back at the administration in an interview Wednesday evening with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, telling her: "I think they should be acquainted with the facts first. You know? First of all, these are not settlements. These are neighborhoods of Jerusalem. We have Arab neighborhoods and we have Jewish neighborhoods."
The prime minister acknowledged that Psaki and Earnest's condemnation "doesn't make me feel good" but "I think the important thing is to just get the facts right."
When asked if Obama needs to get his facts right, Netanyahu clarified "We didn't discuss it. I have to tell you, it was a generic (discussion) ... we didn't get into these specific instances."