The White House said Monday it opposes the construction of new settlements by Israelis in East Jerusalem, a contested area of the nation's capital.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the Obama administration "opposes" the construction of 700 new apartments in East Jerusalem as announced by Israel on Monday.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The United States opposes new Israeli construction in East Jerusalem," Gibbs said in a statement. "The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved by the parties through negotiations and supported by the international community."

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most highly contested issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their own and say it will be the future capital of a Palestinian state. Israel claims the entire city of Jerusalem as its capital.

The White House has long been against the construction of new Israeli settlements in areas deemed to belong to Palestinians. The latest round of construction is taking place in a Jewish neighborhood already inhabited by tens of thousands of people.

Israeli Prime Minsiter Binyamin Netanyahu declared that the country would slow the construction of new settlements in the West Bank in order to ease peace negotiations with the Palestinians. But the ruling did not include East Jerusalem.

Gibbs said that the new construction could sidetrack negotiations that have yet to begin. Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table until all settlement construction is stopped.

"Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations," he said. "Rather, both parties should return to negotiations without preconditions as soon as possible."