Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israeli Settlements Standoff with US: Netanyahu Fails to Defuse Tensions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israeli Settlements Standoff with US: Netanyahu Fails to Defuse Tensions

Article excerpt

Two weeks after Israeli settlements touched off unusually high tensions with Israel's closest ally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads home from Washington without a resolution.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads back home today after failing to defuse the US-Israel standoff sparked two weeks ago by plans for new building in East Jerusalem.

Despite attempts by aides on the eve of Netanyahu's visit to portray the crisis as having blown over, political allies and analysts acknowledged that his meeting with President Barack Obama and others in Washington did little to assuage US concerns.

"There's no doubt that there's a disagreement which is not simple, and that touches the issues that are closest to us like Jerusalem ... it's not easy for us,'' said Culture Minister Limor Livnat, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, in an interview with Israel Radio. "You wouldn't expect that with the US pressing, with great strength, that the prime minister will answer all the American expectations.''

IN PICTURES: Israeli settlements

IN PICTURES: The Israeli separation barrier: A West Bank wall

The US and Israel are searching for an agreement on how to create the right conditions to ensure the success of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, on hiatus for more than a year. Israel's insistence on its right to build in Jerusalem, including the predominantly Arab eastern part of the city annexed by Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, has caused the Palestinians to balk at US- mediated talks. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be their capital if they ever obtain an independent state.

"In the last 24 hours they made some progress, but they're not out of the woods yet,'' says David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington lobbying group that generally favors Likud positions on the Israel- Palestinian conflict.

Makovsky adds that the talks are focusing on confidence-building gestures that are far-reaching enough to create a right "environment'' for peace talks to succeed without upsetting Netanyahu's right-wing coalition - a prospect Makovsky is not sure is achievable. "I don't know if you can square that circle,'' he said.

Pro-settlement groups praise Netanyahu's firm stance

The March 9 announcement of a plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden's recent visit embarrassed the US and prompted Palestinians to balk. Israel apologized, saying the project wouldn't be completed for years.

But Netanyahu asserted this week that building in Jerusalem was no different than building in Tel Aviv. "It's our capital,'' he said at the annual conference of the leading Israel lobbying group in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Back home in Israel, Interior Minister Eli Yishai - whose ministry announced the 1,600 new housing units - told a newspaper of his ultra-religious political party, Shas, that the government would not agree to a building freeze in Jerusalem. …

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