(JTA) – In an unusual rebuke, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his British counterpart forgot basic facts when he criticized Israel’s construction in eastern Jerusalem.
“My friend David Cameron, who is without a doubt a friend of Israel, apparently forgot a few basic facts about Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said in a speech in Ofakim on Thursday, following statements by Cameron the previous day, in which he condemned Israeli construction in the eastern part of Israel’s capital city.
“Only Israeli sovereignty,” Netanyahu said, prevents the Islamic State terrorist group and Hamas “from burning the holy sites.”
Netanyahu’s didactic approach, which is a departure from the measured tone he usually uses when speaking about relations with an important EU ally of Israel, followed Cameron’s own unusual statement on Wednesday in the House of Commons.
“I am well known for being a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say the first time I visited Jerusalem and had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what had happened with the effective encirclement of east Jerusalem, occupied east Jerusalem, it is genuinely shocking,” Cameron said during a weekly question-and-answer session.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem, which it took over from Jordan in 1967, and considers its territory part of Israel proper, though this position is not internationally accepted.
The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas aims to establish the capital of a future Palestinian state in east Jerusalem. The issue remains one of the main obstacles to reaching a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.