Caught off guard, White House angered at timing of Jerusalem housing announcement

American officials had warned Israeli government in 2010 to avoid more surprises on settlement activity; new tenders announced as Netanyahu met President Obama.

US President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, October 1, 2014 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, October 1, 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration was caught off guard by an Israeli announcement on Wednesday to move ahead with the construction of 2,610 settlement units in east Jerusalem, US sources told The Jerusalem Post, prompting an intentionally sharpened response from the White House.
Wednesday's surprise was rooted in the date of the announcement: US President Barack Obama hosted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House for two hours on the very same day, along with both of their national security teams.
Officials chose to publicly admonish the Israeli government only an hour after its premier left the building, presumably deciding on the language as the two leaders met in the Oval Office.
"This development will only draw condemnation from the international community," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said afterwards. "It also would call into question Israel's ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians."
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki came out with similar language as Netanyahu departed for Joint Base Andrews air force base.
In March of 2010, during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden to Israel, a settlement announcement released through local press took both Biden and Netanyahu by surprise. US officials at the time said they expected advanced notice on all future announcement plans.
Only months later, Obama and Netanyahu clashed through comments in the press on additional settlements planned for east Jerusalem, near the new units announced on Wednesday. To that critique, in November 2010, Netanyahu's office responded: "Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel."
The homes will be built in Givat Hamatos, an area of the city that Palestinians believe should be a part of their future state.
The Jerusalem Municipality approved the project in December 2012, but waited almost two years - until the date of the bilateral meeting - to place news of the approval in a local Israeli paper, according to Peace Now, an organization opposed to Israel's presence beyond its 1967 borders.