'Obama didn't seek to chide Israel for e. J'lem building'

White House official to American Jewish leaders: US president didn't plan to publicly slam construction in capital, but merely answered question.

Obama Indonesia 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama Indonesia 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Obama administration did not seek to confront Israel publicly on the issue of plans for new building in east Jerusalem neighborhoods, a White House official told American Jewish leaders in a conference call, website Politico reported on Friday.
Speaking about Israeli plans to advance 1,345 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem at a press conference in Indonesia on Tuesday, Obama said, “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations.” He added that such “incremental steps can end up breaking down trust between the parties.”    
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Obama answered a question put to him at the press conference, but hadn't planned on publicly criticizing the new Israeli building, National Security Council official Dan Shapiro said during the conference call, according to Politico.
Obama's comments set off a barrage of statements from Israel and the US about the east Jerusalem construction plans while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was on a visit to the US in an attempt to break the impasse in the stalled peace talks.
Netanyahu responded to Obama's comments by releasing a statement on Tuesday saying that "Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel." The statement added that the government had never agreed to freeze building in Jerusalem.
“Israel does not see any connection between the peace process and the policy of planning and construction in Jerusalem, which has not changed in 40 years,” the statement continued. “For the last 40 years every Israeli government built in every part of the city. During that period, peace agreements were signed with Egypt and Jordan, and for 17 years direct negotiations were held with the Palestinians. These are historical facts. Construction in Jerusalem has never interfered with the peace process.”
Later on Tuesday, US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to Netanyahu's statement that east Jerusalem construction had no bearing on the peace process.
“There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties ... they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation,” Crowley said. “To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect.”
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.