Kerry presses Netanyahu on Jerusalem building

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised U.S. unhappiness with Israel’s announcement of new building in eastern Jerusalem.

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Kerry, was asked about such a conversation during the daily briefing on May 31 and said the two had spoken the previous day.

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She said Kerry “did raise this issue as part of a broader conversation about the ongoing desire to move back to the negotiating table.”

Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel, the housing minister, last week granted the final approval for the construction of 300 homes in the eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramot.

“We feel these activities are counterproductive to the cause of peace,” Psaki said. “They’re not constructive.”

On Sunday, Kerry in a statement welcomed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ appointment of a new prime minister.

Rami Hamdallah, the British-educated president of An Najah University in Nablus, will succeed the Western-oriented Salam Fayyad, who resigned over differences with Abbas.

Kerry had endeavored to persuade Fayyad not to resign; the economist was widely credited with making the P.A. more transparent and cleaning up corruption, and Kerry considered him critical to renewing peace talks, a key Obama second administration goal.

Fayyad’s resignation last month came at an unpropitious time for Kerry, who is trying to revive Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

Hamdallah’s “appointment comes at a moment of challenge, which is also an important moment of opportunity,” said Kerry’s statement, which also recognized what it called Fayyad’s “extraordinary contributions.”