Netanyahu defies U.S. on East Jerusalem settlement

Sun Jul 19, 2009 3:35pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he would not take orders over Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, rejected on Sunday a U.S. demand to halt plans to build more homes for Jews in the disputed area.

New friction with Washington over the project to build 20 apartments in a part of Jerusalem captured by Israel in a 1967 war could deepen the most serious rift in relations between the two allies in a decade.

Israeli officials said the State Department had summoned Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to Washington, and told him plans for the construction approved this month by Israel's Jerusalem municipality should be suspended.

"We cannot accept the idea that Jews will not have the right to live and buy (homes) anywhere in Jerusalem," Netanyahu said, calling the city Israel's united capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally.

"I can only imagine what would happen if someone would suggest Jews could not live in certain neighborhoods of New York, London, Paris or Rome. There would certainly be a great international outcry," he told reporters at the weekly cabinet meeting. "We cannot accept this edict in Jerusalem."

The White House declined to comment.

Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are already at loggerheads over the U.S. leader's call for Israel to freeze Jewish settlement on occupied land Palestinians want for a state.

Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, due back in the region soon, and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been trying to work out a settlement deal that would include initial steps by Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel.   Continued...

<p>A security guard walks in front of the Shepherd's Hotel, where residential housing is planned, in East Jerusalem July 19, 2009. REUTERS/Ammar Awad</p>