Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated Israeli claims to Jerusalem and rejected assertions that it was not fully committed to peace, in a speech Monday night sandwiched between meetings with top US leaders aimed at smoothing over recent disagreements.
Netanyahu arrived here Monday and held a meeting at his hotel with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before delivering his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Monday night. On Tuesday, he is set to meet with US President Barack Obama at the White House, for private discussions closed to the press.
Though Israeli and American officials have spent days reinforcing the message that the US-Israel relationship remains strong despite the most serious crisis between the country in years, both Netanyahu and leading US officials held their ground on the policy differences between them Monday.
Soon after Clinton told the audience at the AIPAC conference that the status quo between Israelis and Palestinians was “unsustainable” and that building over the 1948 armistice line in Jerusalem hurt efforts to advance the peace process, Netanyahu told tell AIPAC that “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.”
He pointed out that all Israeli governments had built in Jerusalem over those lines and that nearly half the city’s Jewish population lived there.
“They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement,” he told the audience. “Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.”
The recent diplomatic spat began when the Interior Ministry approved 1,600 new housing units in east Jerusalem during the recent visit of Vice President Joe Biden. Netanyahu, who said he’d had no advance notice of the decision, apologized for its timing but has not backtracked on the policy. The US would like to see the approval rescinded, and Clinton, in a phone call to Netanyahu after Biden’s return, challenged his commitment to the peace process and the bilateral relationship.
At her AIPAC speech Monday, she called repeatedly for Israel to take risks for peace.
In Netanyahu’s speech, he pushed back against American suggestions that Israel hadn’t shown a commitment to peace.
“Israel is unjustly accused of not wanting peace with the Palestinians. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Netanyahu said. “My government has consistently shown its commitment to peace in both word and deed. From day one, we called on the Palestinian Authority to begin peace negotiations without delay.”
Still, both sides have indicated that the US and Israel have made strides in addressing the issues to be the subject of indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks, which were on the verge of starting before the Biden visit.
State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said that when it came to Netanyahu’s addressing American requests – which have also included putting final-status issues on the agenda of indirect talks – “he has been responsive to her requests. And we continue our conversation with him.”
That was one of many issues on the agenda of Netanyahu’s meeting with Clinton Monday, which paved the way for his tete-a-tete with Obama Tuesday evening in the Oval Office dining room. As with his last meeting, there is no scheduled press availability or photo opportunity.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Monday rejected the notion that the private nature of the meeting was a sign of discord between the two leaders or nations.
“I can tell you that they’re not frayed and that our bond with the Israelis is strong,” he told reporters. “I think the president is rightly focused on building the type of trust that’s needed to get two parties back to the table to begin that dialogue.”
Herb Keinon contributed to this story.