Obama calls Netanyahu to discuss talks


WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss talks with the Palestinians.

The conversation took place late Monday morning, White spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"They discussed how best to work together to achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East, in particularly by making full use of substantive proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians and transitioning to direct negotiations as soon as possible," Gibbs said. "They also discussed regional challenges, and the President reaffirmed his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security."

Proximity talks, brokered by the Americans, are set to start as soon as this week. They were derailed in early March when Israel announced a major housing start in eastern Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. That controversy launched two months of U.S.-Israel tensions.

The Obama administration has sought in recent days to tamp down the tensions through outreach to the Jewish community and to Israel.

Israel and the United States favor direct talks. The Palestinians are still insisting on indirect talks, demanding a total freeze on settlement and on building in Jerusalem as a condition for direct talks.

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