White House rebukes Israel over settlement construction

The White House on Wednesday strongly criticized reports of Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem, on the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Obama.

Israeli officials have reportedly given final approval to the creation of more than 2,500 homes in East Jerusalem. 

"This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies [and] 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," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a briefing.

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The comment about "closest allies" could be read as a warning about Israel's relationship with the United States, a close ally of Israel.

"It also would call into question Israel's ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians," Earnest said.

The statement was made after President Obama said ahead of a meeting at the White House with Netanyahu on Wednesday that he was looking for a way to "change the status quo" in Gaza.

This was the first meeting between the leaders, who have had an at times rocky relationship, since the conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza this summer.

During that conflict, the Obama administration expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself but also expressed concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza from Israeli shelling.

On Wednesday, though, Netanyahu thanked Obama for the "unflinching" support he gave Israel during the conflict.  

Earnest said that Obama brought up the settlement concerns in the meeting with Netanyahu. He also noted that "the security cooperation between our two nations is unprecedented and it continues to grow stronger."

He said Obama "welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu's support" for the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Netanyahu emphasized that efforts to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon are "even more critical" than the ISIS fight. 

Asked whether Obama agrees that the Iranian issue is more important, Earnest said "the president certainly believes that both of them are key national security priorities."  

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