Obama, Netanyahu reportedly still at odds


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Though Israel’s prime minister said progress was made in resolving the current diplomatic crisis with the United States during his visit, the Obama administration does not appear to be satisfied.

"We are trying to find the golden path between our will to advance the peace process along with the United States and between maintaining the standard policy of all Israeli governments," Netanyahu said before boarding a plane for his return trip to Israel early Thursday morning.

Netanyahu canceled several interviews and appearances Wednesday in order to continue consulting with and directing his advisers as the U.S. and Israeli diplomatic teams met, according to reports.

No joint statement was released following the meetings.

Obama reportedly asked Netanyahu to put in writing assurances that Israel would make gestures to the Palestinians in order to coax them back to negotiations, and that Israel would be willing to discuss final-status issues such as Jerusalem and borders during the upcoming round of indirect talks. This has not yet been done, The New York Times reported. Netanyahu reportedly first plans to consult with his inner Cabinet of Seven ministers.

On Tuesday, the White House said that areas of disagreement remained with Israel on the second day of intense discussions aimed at moving past recent tensions.

"The president and prime minister met and had a full discussion about issues related to the U.S.- Israel relationship, including regional security and peace efforts," spokesman Tommy Vietor said, describing the meeting Tuesday night between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "The president asked the prime minister to take steps to build confidence for proximity talks so that progress can be made toward peace. There are areas of agreement, and some areas of disagreement, but the conversation is ongoing."

The "proximity" talks refer to indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. and Israeli teams continued to meet Wednesday in a bid to end tensions with the Obama administration sparked two weeks ago when Israel announced a major housing start in eastern Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden aimed at underscoring the close U.S.-Israel relationship and restarting peace talks. U.S. officials called the announcement an "insult" and Palestinians backed out of the talks.

Netanyahu met Wednesday afternoon with George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s top envoy to the region, and spent much of the rest of his day consulting with his advisers at the Israeli Embassy.

Israeli spokesman said a new announcement Wednesday of 20 apartments in the Arab Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah should not obstruct the talks. The announcement was procedural, Netanyahu spokesman Nir Hefetz said, and the decision on the apartments dates back to last year. He said Netanyahu would continue to advocate for allowing Jews and Arabs to live in every part of Jerusalem. In fact, tough restrictions on where Palestinian Arabs may live are still in place in Jerusalem.

On Wednesday afternoon, the White House released a statement condemning the plan to build the 20 apartments on the Shephard Hotel site. The Prime Minister’s Office also released a statement that said there are no limitations on rights of ownership in Jerusalem.

The Obama administration is pressing for a total settlement freeze. Netanyahu has said building in all parts of Jerusalem will continue.

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