(Reuters) – Defying the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Monday placing any curbs on building homes for Jews around Jerusalem.
“For the past 40 years, no Israeli government ever limited construction in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” he said in a speech in parliament, citing areas in the West Bank that Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed to the city.
Netanyahu made the remarks after Israeli media reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had demanded Israel cancel a project to build 1,600 settler homes in East Jerusalem, a plan that has caused a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations.
Under U.S. pressure, Netanyahu imposed a limited moratorium on new housing starts in West Bank settlements in November but excluded Jerusalem from the 10-month partial freeze.
In parliament, he called on the Palestinians, who have said they would not restart peace negotiations unless the project was scrapped, not to place new preconditions on the revival of the talks.
Netanyahu said there was nearly total consensus among Israeli political parties that what he called Jewish neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem would remain “part of the state of Israel” in any future peace agreement.
Palestinians say Jewish settlement in occupied territory will deny them a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state.
Citing biblical and historical links, Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital. The claim has not won international recognition.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Samia Nakhoul)