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Santiago is the engineer that wrote this library, and since he's away for the next week, I'll try to answer it. He can add more detail when he returns...
I think the reason that WebResource.setRequestProperty is private is because this class hides the underlying HttpConnection and encapsulates the GET, PUT, POST, DELETE, and HEAD operations. I suppose there was no obvious reason to expose the API when it was written.
I guess we simply didn't have a use case for a generic method like this to be exposed, but it is clearly useful. I'll jot this down as an improvement for the next release. Thanks for trying JerseyMe.