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Shapiro: Obama did not plan to make Jerusalem an issue

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — A senior White House official told Jewish organizational leaders that President Obama did not intend to make a public issue of Israel’s latest housing start in eastern Jerusalem.

Obama, visiting Indonesia last week, had said Israel’s announcement of plans to build more than 1,000 housing units in eastern Jerusalem was "unhelpful."

Dan Shapiro, the top National Security Council official dealing with Israel and its neighbors, said on a conference call with Jewish figures last Friday that he had helped prepare Obama’s notes for his Indonesia tour, and there had not been any plans to mention any disagreement between Israel and the United States.

Obama was asked about Israel’s announcement at a news conference and gave a "straightforward" answer, Shapiro said, that noted that the United States opposed unilateral actions by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Some Jewish figures has criticized what they viewed as the president’s harsh response.

Shapiro also said the meetings last week in the United States between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top U.S. officials went very well, and that both sides agreed that the best course of action was a return to direct talks with the Palestinians as soon as possible.

The Palestinian Authority suspended direct talks in late September after Netanyahu declined to extend a 10-month freeze on Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

Shapiro said that the Obama administration is making it clear, both publicly and privately with Palestinian Authority officials, that incitement against Israel must end and that the United States opposes a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. He stopped short of saying that the United States would veto recognition of such a declaration were it to come before the U.N. Security Council.

He said Obama administration priorities included expanding international recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and encouraging Arab states to normalize relations with Israel.

Asked to respond to Netanyahu’s call last week to make clear a "credible military threat" to Iran unless it suspends its suspected nuclear weapons program, Shapiro said that "all options are on the table," but that the Obama administration preferred for now to emphasize Iran’s diplomatic and economic isolation. New sanctions, Shapiro said, were "biting."

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