White House pushes back against Netanyahu, stands by rebuke of new Israeli settlements

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WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday stood firmly behind its criticism of Israeli settlement construction and pushed back against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's complaint that the U.S. rebuke goes "against American values."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest pointedly noted the U.S. has long supported Israel, defended it in international disputes and financed its defense including an anti-rocket "Iron Dome" system to protect Israelis.

"It did seem odd for him to try to defend the actions of his government by saying that our response did not reflect American values," Earnest said.

The issue centers on last week's final go-ahead in Jerusalem for construction of a new housing development in the neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem.

Earnest said Monday that it has been longstanding U.S. policy to oppose any unilateral action that attempts to prejudge the status of Jerusalem. "These can only be legitimately determined through direct negotiations between the parties that this president has worked hard to try to facilitate," Earnest said.

Earnest warned last week that the project would distance Israel from "even its closest allies" and raise questions about its commitment to seeking peace with Palestinians.

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