President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefly met today, renewing their famously frosty, and occasionally tendentious relationship after a seven-month hiatus. The leaders spoke to reporters and listed a raft of pressing issues for discussion: Iran’s nuclear program; the onslaught of Islamic State in the Middle East and the wider, regional conflagration; and the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The latest attempt to solve that decades-old conflict was shelved earlier this year as the two sides — despite exhaustive but fruitless mediation by Secretary of State John Kerry — reached yet another impasse. A key and ongoing issue: Israeli settlement activity.
Today, it was revealed by an Israeli anti-settlement group — Peace Now — that the municipality of Jerusalem had approved construction of 2500 new homes in Givat Hamatos, a development in East Jerusalem that would complete a ring of Jewish housing around East Jerusalem, between Arab neighborhoods of the city and the West Bank; in essence, a buffer. This new development would cut off the predominantly-Arab Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa from the West Bank town of Bethlehem, to the South of the city.
These Jewish housing developments are considered by Palestinians, the international community and the United States as settlements on land claimed by Palestinans as their own. East Jerusalem (and its iconic Old City) was captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and annexed. Successive U.S. Administrations have made demands of Israel to cease this very type of settlement activity and expansion not only in the Jerusalem area but around the West Bank, the core of a future Palestinian State. The decision revealed today received a harsh condemnation from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest (as shown below) who was questioned near the beginning of his daily briefing.