WH hits back at ‘odd’ Netanyahu criticism

WH hits back at ‘odd’ Netanyahu criticism
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The White House brushed aside criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE on Monday, with press secretary Josh Earnest calling the foreign leader’s anger in a dispute over new Jewish settlements “odd.”

It was the latest volley in the increasingly strained relationship between Netanyahu and President Obama, which took another hit last week over plans to build a new housing development on disputed territory. 

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Last week, a Jerusalem city official approved plans to build the project in Givat Hamatos, leading the Obama administration to warn the construction could distance Israel from "even its closest allies" and cast doubts about its commitment to peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu fired back in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation," calling the condemnation "baffling."

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

Earnest shot back on Monday, saying it seemed "odd for him to try to defend the actions of his government by saying that our response did not reflect American values."

"The fact is American policy has been clear and unchanged under several administrations, both Democrat and Republican," Earnest said.

"We oppose any unilateral actions that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem,” he continued. “These can only be legitimately determined through direct negotiations between the parties that this president has worked hard to try to facilitate."

Earnest said Netanyahu had ignored questions about plans for the project in east Jerusalem and reiterated that moving forward "is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians."

But the White House spokesman said that while doing so "would send a very troubling message," the U.S. nevertheless continued to offer "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," Earnest said. "It’s American values that have led us to fund and build an Iron Dome system that have protected the lives of countless innocent Israeli citizens.

"It’s American values that have led the United States to fully support Israel’s right to defend itself,” he added. “And it’s American values that have led us to defend Israel in a variety of international forums."