The White House denied on Monday that President Barack Obama’s administration is planning to impose economic sanctions against Israel.
Spokesperson Josh Earnest told journalists that reports that the president had been considering the sanctions due to plans by the Israeli government to build homes in Jerusalem were “completely unfounded and without merit.”
“Recent reports suggest that your administration has held classified meetings over the past several weeks to discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions against Israel for its decision to construction homes in East Jerusalem,” 48 Congress members wrote to Obama on Friday.
“We believe that those actions are counterproductive, that they don’t serve to facilitate the kind of trust that we believe is necessary for both sides to try to hammer out their differences in a way that is consistent with the national security concerns of the Israeli people and with the broader aspirations of the Palestinian people,” Earnest said.
Last month there were echoes of frustration from the U.S. State Department over plans to build 500 housing units in the badly overcrowded Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem. The State Department called an announcement of the plans by the Jerusalem district planning and building committee “unfortunate” and “illegitimate” — a condemnation that followed a similar spat the week prior.
At the end of October, the prime minister’s office approved plans to build 600 new housing units in the same neighborhood, in addition to 400 units in Har Homa, another post-1967 neighborhood in the capital. Washington said at that point that Israel was taking steps that were “not conducive to peace in the region and a two-state solution.”
The State Department had expressed “concern” over what it called “settlement construction” — an odd choice of words for a northern Jerusalem neighborhood that is home to more than 20,000 people and has been in existence for nearly half a century.